On Saturday, Bill Townsend was getting ready to celebrate his 95th birthday in August while he was enjoying another very longstanding tradition for him- the 43th Annual World’s Largest Salmon Barbecue.
Since 1971, Townsend has been coming from Ukiah to Fort Bragg as a volunteer cook for the annual Salmon Restoration Association fundraiser, which happens every year on the first Saturday in July in South Noyo Harbor.
He has flipped fish for free in 39 summers now. As with most sportsmen he is dedicated both to restoration and fun.
“Helping the fish is more important now than ever. This event is always great. I see people here I don’t get to spend enough time with the rest of the year,” Townsend said. Townsend comes with a group from the Ukiah Rod and Gun Club, one of many civic organizations that provide groups of volunteers to the fundraiser.
2011 attendance was 2284 paid adults and 148 children’s tickets, up about $6,000 in ticket sales from last year and way up over a very chilly 2009. The event benefits salmon restoration causes, from reviving spawning grounds in the Noyo River to counting salmon in the Usal Forest to giving Fort Bragg Middle School students the chance to do riparian restoration in Otis Johnson Wilderness Park.
This year, the SRA also sponsored an educational film festival at Town Hall on Friday and Saturday.
About 3000 people use the South Noyo Harbor District barbecue grounds throughout the day every year, with some passing up the ticket booth just for the beer, wine and music from the likes of the Earl Oliver and the Groovinators, the Sea Okies and Steven Bates and Friends.
As both a reporter for this newspaper and a board member of the Salmon Restoration Association, I’ve taken surveys every year on where people come from for this event. Every year the majority come from inland areas beyond the county borders. But the faces of these inland eaters have started to become familiar. Over the years it’s been surprising how many of these visitors are back for their 10th or 20th or even 30th time.
This year my mom found another dedicated new source for me to share dinner with, Victoria Bigelow of Santa Rosa.
Bigelow and her husband Paul have been coming for 15 year. Their 8-year-old son Cooper has obviously worked into the tradition, which includes fireworks and lots of fun on the beach.
“I never get around to make advance reservations and we just drive up. So far we have been lucky and found a place to stay,” Victoria Bigelow said.
Last year that meant pitching a tent out front at a local campground. Despite the lack of privacy, others were jealous of the family’s nearly beachfront spot.
“Somebody walked by and said ‘how come they get to be there,” she said.
Bigelow likes the unqiue educational opportunities, such as the Department of Homeland Security’s Coast Guard base open house held during the barbecue every year.
A hands on painting booth operated by Americorps volunteers was a favorite of Cooper.
Cooper has a t-shirt collection from every year he has been, although he gets the previous year each time, as those are marked down.
June 16, 2010