Seafood with a dash of history

Published 2:50 pm Tuesday, October 1, 2019

By Selina Foreman


For almost four decades, Poquoson has been home to one of the most lauded seafood festivals in the area. However, in addition to all of the local seafood (and there is an abundance of it), the Poquoson Seafood Festival also endeavors to educate the public about the city’s rich history on the water.

“It’s really to honor the heritage of the working watermen here in the city,” said Gretchen Gochenour, assistant director for Poquoson Parks and Recreation.

The Working Watermen’s Heritage Display Exhibit features actual watermen performing some of the duties of their trade, like repairing crab pots.

“We really want to show others just exactly what they do,” said Deborah Taylor Mahanes, director of the Poquoson Seafood Festival and events coordinator for the city. “It’s all tied in with our watermen.”

The festival covers all the bases — great food, local and regional entertainment and more than 160 arts and crafts vendors.  But it is also a civic-minded event with local groups like the Kiwanis Club and the American Legion raising funds that they reinvest in the city.

“It’s a win-win for the city,” said Mahanes.

“It’s very much a local community event that everyone is very proud of,” said David Callis, director of Poquoson Parks and Recreation.

The three-day event is kicked off with workboat races at Messick Point, and Friday night is reserved for Poquoson entertainment like Poquoson’s high school band, Poquoson Islanderettes and Poquoson Dance Academy.

“Friday night is generally like Poquoson night because it’s Poquoson entertainment,” said Mahanes, herself a Poquoson native. “We try to do that for our citizens here.”

The family-friendly nature of the event is critical to its success, according to Mahanes. There is entertainment for kids of all ages, including a petting zoo, magicians and amusement rides. Hampton-based Rainbow Puppets Production Inc. will feature their nationally acclaimed puppets.

There is no alcohol at the event, which is somewhat rare for festivals these days. Mahanes said it helps the festival maintain its family feel.

“We chose to keep it that way,” she said. “We want to be family-friendly.”

A significant draw for festivalgoers is the Poquoson Art League Juried Arts and Crafts show. It is one of the largest collections of arts and crafts of any festival on the East Coast, and the meandering, wooded setting makes for an enjoyable way to experience local artisans.

“It’s a very large show,” said Gochenour.

But, at the end of the day, the biggest draw is right there in the name: seafood.

“We have some of the best seafood in the Hampton Roads area for any festival that they do,” said Mahanes. “It’s a nice fall event.”

“It’s a great day to spend just not paying any attention to how many calories you’re having,” said Gochenour, laughing. “I’m sure that you can eat your way through it.”