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‘Sixty years of history, heritage, contributions’

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A certificate from Governor Terry McAuliffe recognizing the 60th anniversary of the Urbanna Oyster Festival was presented on October 4 by Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Todd P. Haymore at the Urbanna Town Marina. Above, Haymore (left) presents the certificate to Joe Heyman, who chairs the Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation Board and the 2017 Urbanna Oyster Festival, which is set for November 3-4. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

“The Urbanna Oyster Festival has demonstrated to visitors and Virginians alike that Virginia is for oyster lovers,” states the certificate from Governor Terry McAuliffe formally recognizing the 60th annual Urbanna Oyster Festival to be held November 3-4. “The Commonwealth of Virginia joins the Urbanna Oyster Festival and Foundation in celebrating 60 years of remarkable history, heritage and contributions to the coastal Virginia community,” stated the Governor.

Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Todd Haymore delivered the proclamation on behalf of Governor McAuliffe on October 4 to more than 60 Middlesex County residents, business owners, oyster growers, local elected officials and state dignitaries who gathered on the docks of the Urbanna Town Marina, overlooking the “F.D. Crockett,” a fully-restored, historic buyboat owned by the Deltaville Maritime Museum.

The oyster is such a deep part of Virginia history and heritage, said Haymore, adding that the earliest history of Virginia and the diaries of John Smith included stories about oysters lying as “thick as stones” in the Chesapeake Bay.

Last year more than 40 million oysters were sold that generated, statewide, almost $19 million in revenue, Haymore said, noting that in the last 10 years he’s seen those numbers increase. “The oyster is a true economic and environmental driver.”

He remarked how oysters clean the water and then are harvested to produce revenue for the Commonwealth that “ripples out.”

Tourism benefits
Haymore said, “The tourism industry is our second largest private sector industry in the Commonwealth, generating about $24 billion a year in revenue and 30,000 jobs.”

Staci Martin of the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC), who was at the event, said, “Tourism is the backbone” of Virginia’s economy. “For this festival event planners, watermen and aquaculture farmers have come together year after year, 60 years in all, to create an amazing festival using our existing blue-green infrastructure. The Virginia Tourism Council continues to be impressed by how the community comes together to create some incredible tourism experiences.”

Martin referred to the heritage of the oyster. “In some ways the watermen’s history and the history of the oyster are intertwined. It’s the American story, it’s the boot strap story, the rise and fall and rising again of an industry that is managing both its wild fisheries and integrating new technology into oyster farming.”

Oysters are job creators, said Martin. “All of you who help make the oyster marketable, all of you who support tours and tourism around the oyster, and all of you here like me who like to eat oysters are absolutely appreciated for what you do. In its 60th year, the Urbanna Oyster Festival is a testament to the longevity of the oyster and to the cooperation and willingness of the community to support and celebrate its history and heritage around the oyster.”

Early times 
The Urbanna Oyster Festival was designated the official Oyster Festival of the Commonwealth in 1988. The festival was started by a group of businessmen as Urbanna Days in 1958.

“That first festival brought hundreds of visitors and from that humble beginning has grown into the festival that hosts tens of thousands, supported by hundreds of volunteers and, according to a College of William and Mary study, generates more than $6 million annually into the regional economy,” said Joe Heyman, who chairs the Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation Board and is the 2017 Oyster Festival chair.

“It is remarkable that the Town of Urbanna has continued to host this celebration,” Senator Tim Kaine said in a statement read by a member of his staff. “I’m especially pleased that local citizens and tourists from around the Commonwealth are able to come together and celebrate all that Virginia’s Middle Peninsula and Rappahannock River Region have to offer.”

Senator Mark Warner said in a statement, which was read by a staff member, “The oyster has been an integral part of life for those living near the Chesapeake Bay since well before the first European settlers arrived. A healthy oyster fishery begets a healthy, prosperous Virginia. Urbanna has contributed so much to the Commonwealth through its promotion of the oyster industry. I commend the Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation and all those involved in their effort to share your special community with others and for making this festival a tremendous success year after year.”

posted 10.11.2017

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