The third weekend in October in Richmond Hill, Georgia stirs excitement about the Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival for locals and non-locals alike. The taste of fried shrimp, seafood gumbo, Lowcountry boil and much more draws crowds as large as 30,000 plus. During the day, families and children fill JF Gregory Park eager to ride the enamoring carnival rides and play games, often resulting in the winning of a large stuffed animal or a live goldfish to take home as the new household pet.
At night, the park fills with large crowds ready to enjoy live music acts, usually featuring a popular headlining artist. From Travis Tritt, Greg Allman and the Blues Brothers to Journey, Charlie Daniels Band, and Joe Nichols, the Saturday evening show is always the main event. Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber CEO, Kathryn Johnson says, “It’s sure to be a rockin event! We are excited to announce Blackberry Smoke will headline Saturday night’s show.”
The large crowds—day and night—make this a great place for local vendors and businesses to easily showcase their work to the masses. From beautiful artwork and jewelry to t-shirts and handmade knives, there is something for everyone to shop for and appreciate. But the importance of this giant local opportunity lies in the fundraising ability for local non-profits and small businesses.
If you have been to the Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival, then you have more than likely seen the Boy Scouts picking up trash or selling their delicious peach cobbler, but what these boys take away from the event is much more than just taking out trash or passing out food. Boy Scouts Troop 400 Scout Master, Jason Whitaker states, “Troop 400 depends on income received during the Seafood Festival to fund scouting events such as campouts, service projects, and summer camps.” Jasons’s wife, Lea, expands on this, “Having the boys prepare and sell the fresh peach cobbler, funds a huge portion of our year. It’s what keeps the Troop running.
The boys who work have the opportunity to help pay their way to camps, this way they are invested. They learn relational skills by interacting with the community. Our boys also help keep the park clean throughout the entire weekend and carry off trash for all of the vendors… Definitely not a glamorous job, but it teaches the boys how to serve their community. It is a long weekend for Troop 400, but we all look forward to it!”
The original intent behind the creation of the Seafood Festival was to raise money for local non-profit organizations; this event continues to be the most successful annual local fundraiser for non-profit organizations and local businesses. The success of the event is due to the more than 300 volunteers led by members of the Richmond Hill/Bryan County Chamber of Commerce and its Seafood Festival Committee. The amount of dedication, time, and energy it takes to pull off such an event is tremendous, yet year after year it is done and continues to get better and better. 2020 brought with it the COVID 19 pandemic, resulting in the cancellation of the festival. In 2019, the festival was cut short due to a tropical storm making Richmond Hill its path. Two years of a non-event left many organizations in desperation.
Christy Sherman, Executive Director of the Richmond Hill Convention and Visitors Bureau, explains the significance of the event, “The Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival is an important local economic driver in Richmond Hill. Not only is it a major fundraiser for local organizations, but it increases jobs, sales tax, hotel/motel revenue, and ripples through the community–affecting tourism and non-tourism businesses. It brings local residents and business owners together and raises awareness to visitors about what else we have to offer, including lodging, dining, and other events and attractions.”
Overall, tourism provides $52 million in economic impact locally according to the latest numbers provided by the Richmond Hill Convention & Visitors Bureau (2019), supporting 425 jobs and contributing $2.26 million in state tax revenue and $1.56 million in local tax revenue. Each Bryan County household would need to be taxed an additional $293 per year to replace taxes generated by tourism economic activity. “The pandemic disrupted the travel and tourism industry in Richmond Hill, across the state, and around the world. But, with more Americans now in a travel-ready state of mind, we are optimistic that leisure travel will continue to increase.”
Kathryn Johnson reiterates, “The Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival is more than just a festival. It is a community event that supports the Chamber, local non-profits, businesses, hoteliers, and more. From a chamber perspective, not having the festival means losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in this community as a whole. For us specifically, the funds support our staff, local projects for the community, and has enabled us to keep our membership dues low. Additionally, over the years our board has proudly been able to reimburse all non-profit vendors their festival booth deposit in an effort to help them raise as many funds as possible in the three-day period. We look forward to putting on another fun-filled and entertaining festival this year so save the date! Advanced purchase tickets will be on sale later this summer.”