For the first time, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) on Sanibel was the fundraising beneficiary of the Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival staged on the causeway over four days last weekend.
"It was extremely well attended," said Parks & Recreation senior supervisor Vicki Little. "There were a lot of vendors, a lot of support a lot of positive feedback and we had great weather."
Besides the kayaking and paddling races going on, there were a number of instructional seminars and demonstrations plus guest speakers on a variety of wildlife topics.
Paddleboards, sailboards and kayaks line the beach on Sanibel Causeway Island A during the Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival.
"The festival was more participation than it was competition," said event coordinator Betsy Clayton. "The thing they like most is the demos where they get to try the paddleboards or kayaks without committing to a lengthy class. To introduce someone to paddling you have to have flat, calm water and that's what we had."
The festival attracted its crowd despite competing against several other events in Lee County, such as the Taste of the Town and a fishing tournament on Fort Myers Beach. Festival crowds were held down last year by some bad weather.
There were an all-time high number of volunteers from Lee County Parks & Recreation as well as those from CROW.
"We had more vendors this year," said Clayton, "and more speakers, most of which were coordinated through CROW. The Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce's mobile visitor's van was there and a lot of people who interacted with that went on the island to visit."
The major prize given away during the event was a Hobie Mirage Pro Angler 12 kayak at the fishing tournament held at Matlacha. The kayak, provided by Hobie and Estero Outfitters valued at more than $3,000, was won by Travid Rupe.
Kristen and Mike Beck won the kayak relay race on the causeway while Kim and Don Payne won the standup paddleboard relay race.
"We enjoyed steady foot traffic on the causeway," said Clayton. "Exhibitors and vendors were very pleased. About one quarter of the people come from our of state, or more than a two-hour drive away. I personally met people from Colorado, New York, Canada, Georgia and South Carolina who came just for the festival, as well as state people from Tampa and Jacksonville."
CROW spiced things up with a clever teaching tool. Each day a CROW patient ready to return to the wild was released on the causeway.
"We had a public address system and used the social websites to get the word out about the CROW releases," said Clayton.
Clayton indicated parks & recreation officials were so pleased with its relationship with CROW this year that it is hoped to continue the association in the years to come.