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Niantic Oyster Festival brings together beers and shellfish for a cause

East Lyme — It was a veritable who’s who of the local shellfish and brewery scene.

The 3rd Annual Niantic Bay Oyster Festival highlighted oysters and beers from a variety of Connecticut and Rhode Island companies to the delight of the hundreds of people who gathered for Saturday’s event to the rear of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

There was live music, a cornhole shootout and 20 booths set up in a convenient circle for people to eat. And of course, there were oysters.

“I killed two birds with one stone,” festivalgoer John Purcell said, proudly holding a plate of freshly shucked raw oysters from Mystic Oysters in one hand and an India Pale Ale from the Niantic Public House & Brewery in the other.

His young daughter wrinkled her nose at the sight of the oysters, which were smothered in cocktail sauce.

“Too young to appreciate it,” Purcell said with a shrug.

Waterford resident Deborah Connors, who also had a plate of oysters, had a tip for those people scared to take their first try of a raw oyster.

“Try it fried first," she said. "You have to step up to this.”

In addition to Mystic, oysters at Saturday’s festival came from Behan Family Oyster Farm in Rhode Island, Clinton-based Indian River Shellfish and homegrown Niantic Bay Shellfish Farm, the latter being Connors’ favorite.

Niantic Bay Shellfish Farm owner T.J. Londregan took a break from the shucking line Saturday to point over his shoulder toward the water to indicate the direction of where his oysters were grown.

“Two hundred yards that way,” he said.

Londregan has been involved with the oyster festival since its inception and said it has continued to grow. And while he has some issues with the town related to his business that he needs to sort through, Londregan said he’s received a tremendous amount of support from the community for his fresh and locally sourced product. He brought 4,000 oysters to the festival and said he wouldn’t be surprised to see them gone by the end of the day.

Of the festival, Londregan said, “it’s a great thing to have in town. It shows the amount of interest and community support for local, sustainably grown products. It’s all for a good cause.”

A portion of the proceeds from the day’s event will benefit The Miracle League of Southeastern Connecticut, which is raising $500,000 to complete a fully accessible playground area and restroom and storage facility adjacent to a regional Miracle Field constructed behind Flanders Elementary School in East Lyme. Phase I was completed in 2020 for about $650,000 without cost to taxpayers.

Dave Putnam, director of East Lyme Parks and Recreation Department and executive director of The Miracle League of Southeastern Connecticut, said while fundraising for Phase II halted because of the pandemic, Saturday’s event would add a boost to the roughly $100,000 already in the coffers.

Vendors were donating 25% of the proceeds from their sales to the Miracle League but Putnam said some participants offered to donate all of their proceeds toward the cause.

The Oyster Festival actually started four years ago but skipped 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. People were ready to get back out this year, as evidenced by the large crowd Saturday afternoon, Putnam said.

The Miracle League provides opportunities for children in southeastern Connecticut with physical, cognitive and developmental challenges to participate in recreational activities in a nurturing and noncompetitive environment. For more information, visit mlsect.org.

g.smith@theday.com

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