Around 1970, a group of Eastern Shore sportsmen and women conceived an event that would ultimately grow into a regional tradition spanning generations – the Waterfowl Festival. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge had been built in 1952 opening up easy access to what was once a relatively isolated Eastern Shore of Maryland. A second span was only a few years away and would further speed the development and changes that the area was experiencing.
This group of ambitious enthusiasts envisioned an event that would share with visitors the unique Eastern Shore heritage that they treasured, in the hopes of preserving it before it was lost, while raising funds to protect the wildlife and habitat that were integral to the area’s way of life. Enlisting numerous local individuals and organizations in their plans, they staged the first Waterfowl Festival in November, 1971, timing it to coincide with the opening of goose hunting season. The introduction to the first event program describes an event that will “capture the true romance, the excitement, engendered by the [area’s] wildbirds and the hunting sport they create.” Those early expectations were that event would “grow into something extraordinary.”
Few would argue that this vision has not been fulfilled over the past four decades. The Waterfowl Festival has grown from three small exhibits in downtown Easton to more than a dozen venues throughout the town, with an annual economic impact to the area of nearly $3 million*. The event’s first exhibits were Carvings, Paintings and Artifacts. Ten years later, there were 11 exhibits and a decoy auction and Calling Contests. A shuttle bus system also had been introduced to get people around town to all the venues.
By the time of the 20th Waterfowl Festival, the number of exhibits had grown to 15, with four events, including the immediately popular Retriever Demonstrations. Food, music, kids’ activities and more special events went along with the growth of the Festival, broadening its appeal to families and those simply looking for a fun weekend getaway. The nonprofit organization’s benefits to conservation have grown from initial proceeds of $7,500 donated to Ducks Unlimited to a total of more than $5.7 million in conservation grants to hundreds of projects by more than 50 organizations.
Going beyond its initial strategy of investing event proceeds in other organizations’ conservation and education projects, the Waterfowl Festival now actively partners with some grant recipients in collaborative efforts. Direct participation allows it to enlist multiple organizations and agencies in larger-scale projects with greater environmental significance.
THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF THE WATERFOWL FESTIVAL
- The festival also plays a key role in fostering economic activity in other Talbot County towns outside of Easton. In 2019, more than 41% of festival attendees participated in activities held in St. Michaels and Oxford. Of the visitors who stayed in Talbot County overnight, roughly one quarter stayed in either St. Michaels, Oxford or Tilghman Island.
- Efforts to be welcoming to visitors seem to be paying off- 68% of visitors in 2019 were returning for at least the third time and 99% of Waterfowl Festival visitors reported that they plan to visit Talbot County again.
- In 2019, the Waterfowl Festival attracted more than 15,120 attendees with 45% of those attendees visiting from more than 50 miles away. The average length of stay among visitors was 2.1 days with 41% visiting Easton for the day while the remaining 59% stayed overnight in the region.
- Excluding the cost of festival admissions, these visitors spent a total of nearly $3 million on various goods and services within Talbot County economy. On average, each visitor spent $145 on lodging (overnight only), $98 on food and beverages, $61 on recreation and entertainment and $138 on retail purchases.
- The Waterfowl Festival generated an additional $496,000 on event-related operating expenses by vendors, exhibitors and event organizers in the Talbot County economy. Adding this to visitor expenditure brought total local 2019 Waterfowl Expenditures to $3.5 million.
- This $3.5 million in expenditures resulted in nearly $2.5 million in total economic impact (value added) to the Talbot County economy. Talbot retained about 74 cents of every dollar spent locally by festival visitors and organizers. Approximately $905,000 of Waterfowl Festival spending left the region, “leaking” out through purchases of imported goods and services.
- Waterfowl Festival-initiated spending generated $787,000 in tax receipts, including $357,000 in federal receipts and another $429,000 in state and local tax receipts. The event contributed roughly
$29,000 in hotel taxes and nearly $6,000 in state and local taxes & fees associated with car rentals.
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