Still pinched by Sandy, Jersey region hopes crab festival will lure visitors

Five years after Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey, parts of the state’s picturesque Delaware Bayshore — swamped by surge and whipped by wind — are still trying to recover economically.

Why not try to lure people back with one of the things the region does best?

The region, renowned for fishing hamlets such as Fortescue, is throwing its first crab fest, Crabs and All That Jazz.

“We are struggling with all of our might to get people to know where we are,” says Linda Waterman, who is organizing the Saturday crab fest for the nonprofit Cumberland County Coastal Connection. She and her husband operate Beaver Dam Boat Rentals in Downe Township.

“Not only were we devastated to begin with, we should be much busier than we are,” she said. “We have an amazing environment that we should be showing off. Many people just don’t know we’re here.”

She said organizers hoped to keep the festival affordable, and to get people to see natural wonders nearby and to visit local businesses. So the group has arranged a crabbing tournament and scavenger hunt along the coast, capped by a crab dinner at the main festival wharf in Port Norris.

The festival is the same day as the Cohansey Riverfest and Bridgeton Crabfest, farther north. But Waterman sees the two events as complementary and encourages people to attend both.

For her group’s festival, it will cost $20 to enter the crabbing tournament, which includes a T-shirt, crab cracker, and fork. An eight-crab dinner will cost $20, and a four-crab dinner will be $10. Entrance to the main festival grounds, with live music, is free.

The main region Waterman hopes the festival will benefit — from Fairton to the Maurice River — is a roughly 15-mile stretch of Cumberland County that encompasses bayshore, marinas, wetlands, farms, forests, marshes, and nature preserves.

Parts of the region along the coast are dealing with sea rise and continued flooding.  Some communities have disappeared, and some are in the process.  It’s unlikely the area will see a rush of federal aid, unlike barrier-island Shore communities that face the ocean.

The festival is to culminate at the Bayshore Center at Bivalve, which hosts the A.J. Meerwald, a restored oyster-dredging schooner designated as New Jersey’s official tall ship.  The center also has a museum, wetlands walk, cafe, and art gallery off the Maurice River, which empties into the bay.

“There’s no entrance fee at all,” Waterman says.  “You’re welcome to just come down and hang out.”