It is, John Stevely said, a “monumental” year for the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival.
It’s the 35th year for the festival, and that’s a significant milestone.
But something a lot more important has happened since last year’s festival. After prolonged negotiations, the Cortez community has finally been able to purchase the last parcel of land that it needs to complete Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) Preserve. The Preserve includes almost 100 acres of land and mangrove wetland habitat along the Sarasota Bay shoreline.
“That may have nothing to do with the festival itself,” Stevely said, “but it has to do with the reason for the festival.”
Stevely is on the FISH board and on the organizing committee for the festival, which is set for Saturday and Sunday in Cortez Village. From his point of view, the festival is most importantly a FISH fundraiser. Income from the festival has helped FISH buy that 100-acre preserve, piece by piece, over the past 17 years.
But he knows that the thousands of people who look forward to the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival every year are there for a day of the freshest seafood imaginable, live music and historic surroundings. This year’s festival will have as much of all that as ever before.
After prolonged negotiations, the Cortez community has finally been able to purchase the last parcel of land that it needs to complete Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) Preserve.
There’s an educational component to it all as well, and Stevely said that lots of families take the time to learn a little something about Cortez, about the environment and fishing in Florida while they’re at the the festival.
This year there’s a new way to do that. The Cortez Cultural Center has opened since the last festival, and people who attend the festival can explore it for free. Members of the Cortez Village Historical Society will serve as guides. As always, the adjacent Florida Maritime Museum will be open, the people at Boatworks will show how they skillfully build and repair boats, and a marine-life touch tank will allow children a hands-on experience.
This year’s festival also has more of the popular “Dock Talks,” during which experts talk about the history of the village and local fishery resources. And artists from around Florida will be on hand to show and sell their work.
“We’re really proud of the quality of the artists we have,” Stevely said.
Parking and traffic presented problems for festival-goers in the past, but shuttle buses ($3 round trip), more parking options and improved signage have eliminated a lot of the hassles.
People have been telling me, “Just go ahead and make it $5.” But the last thing we want is having people think they’ve been gouged. So it’s $4. A family of four can get in for $8.
“We try to get a little better at it every year,” Stevely said, “and I think we have.”
There is a little negative news to balance out all that cool stuff. Early in the week, the weather forecast was calling for rain on Saturday and Sunday, so families may need to time their visits to the festival so they don’t get drenched.
Also, largely because of the purchase of the last, essential and expensive parcel of land that completes the preserve, FISH has found it necessary to increase the admission price for the festival. It was $3 last year; this year it will be $4. Children under age 12 are still free.
“People have been telling me, ‘Just go ahead and make it $5.’ ” Stevely said. “But the last thing we want is having people think they’ve been gouged. So it’s $4. A family of four can get in for $8.”
Details: Feb. 18-19, Cortez Fishing Village. $4; children under 12 free. 10 a.m-6 p.m. Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, 941-254-4972, cortez-fish.com. Shuttle: There is a remote parking area at G.T. Bray park, 5502 33rd Ave. Dr. W., Bradenton. ($1.50 one way $3.00 round trip).