As a brilliant rose tint colored the sky and the Beaufort River Friday evening, thousands poured into the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park for the 17th Annual Beaufort Shrimp Festival.
Last year, the park was fenced in and attendance limited to 3,500, said Androula Weiland, Main Street Beaufort, USA's events manager. The year's turnout was bigger with the fences down, she said.
"Now it's packed, which makes me feel so good," she said as she looked at the crowd. "That's awesome."
Part of the proceeds are split with the restaurants that serve up a wide variety of dishes with wild, freshly-caught local shrimp, so the festival is an opportunity to return money to local businesses, Weiland said.
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Veteran shrimp festival attendees Linda and Euel Blanton of Swansea brought first-timers Keith and Tina Rish of West Columbia. Euel Blanton said it was much better this year because there were no fences.
The couples snacked on fried shrimp and oysters, southern-fried sushi (shrimp and grits wrapped in panko crumbs) and ceviche.
"It's good for the economy and it's educational with the shrimp boats," Euel Blanton said. "And you get to meet all sorts of people and we get to try a whole of lot food we don't normally get to."
Occasional vacationers on Hilton Head Island, Larry and Patti Hafley are staying in downtown Beaufort this weekend for their first trip to the shrimp festival.
"This is just a time warp," he said. "It's the old houses, and there's a lot of southern charm."
Down from Cleveland, Tenn., the couple took pictures on the boardwalk before looking for shrimp.
"This is wonderful," Patti Hafley said. "We've met so many locals and had a great time. We're even going to get on Facebook with one."
Kelly Morris, of Beaufort, and her mother Joanne Thomas of Jacksonville brought her Morris' kids -- Skyler, 9; Robbie, 6; and Haley, 2 -- for an afternoon at the park and dinner at the festival. Morris said she loves living in a small city with so many family-friendly events.
Thomas praised the food.
"The Gulf shrimp are good, but these are really sweet and tasty here," she said. "When I come, I have to eat the seafood."
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.