The Florida Seafood Festival, which in 54 years has grown to become the state’s largest maritime festival, will be here this weekend for the 55th one.

John Solomon, president of the non-profit festival’s board, is confident the festival will give a much-needed boost to the county economy and a lift to a beleaguered Panhandle’s spirits.

“Many people questioned whether we’d be able to have a seafood festival,” said Solomon. “The board decided early on that if it was physically possible to hold the 55th annual Florida Seafood Festival, we would proceed forward.

“At day five after the hurricane, it was very evident that with the help from the city, county , state and Duke Energy, that Battery Park would be able to host the festival,” he said. “The decision was based on the original reason that we have the seafood festival, to boost the economy of Franklin County and to attract visitors to our area.

“The volunteer board of directors, who all have dealt with some sort of adversity from the hurricane, whether it was damage to homes and property, or businesses, decided it was a must to help this community back on its feet,” said Solomon.

“Everything that you expect from the Florida Seafood Festival will still be there this year,” he said.

As an early treat, on Thursday from 6 to 11 p.m. the ride area only will be open, with the entrance at the Water Street gate.

The traditional opening of the festival at 4 p.m. Friday will again be the Blessing of the Fleet, led by the Buddy Boys shrimp boat from 13-Mile Seafood. Arriving aboard the shrimp boat will be the 2018 Miss Flor4dia Seafood Festival; Beyla Walker, and King Retsyo Demetrice Cummings, a longtime seafood house worker. People are invited to come by the Andrus Dock area to view the blessing ceremony.

Following that Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson and Solomon will host a welcoming ceremony at the information booth in Battery Park.

Admission is free on Friday, and there the park will be filled with the usual assortment of arts and crafts booths, food booths, and non-profit organizations, which this year will include school classes, churches, and sports teams, including organizations from Gulf County.

Local churches will perform musical entertainment Friday, followed by Dove Award winner LaRue Howard takes the stage at 8:30 p.m. The event closes Friday at 11 p.m.

Registration for the Redfish Run 5K starts at 7 a.m. in front of the Gibson Inn Saturday. The race begins at 8 a.m. with award ceremony following the last finisher

Parade starts at 10 a.m.. Being honored as the Grand Marshals will be the Duke Energy linemen and Danny Collins.

“The amazing work they performed in this community has never been seen before by a power company. We’re very proud to have them as our grand marshals,” said Solomon.

The park opens at 10 a.m., Saturday, with a $5 admission, free to kids under 12.

Beginning at 1 p.m. will be the traditional oyster eating and oyster shucking contests. Last year’s top shucker Scotty O’Lear will be returning as well as former champ Honor Allen who recently finished fifth at the world competition in Ireland

The blue crab races, sponsored by Fisherman Chopice, begin at 1 p.m. and are held on the hour until 5 p.m.

Entertainment on the main stage begins at 3:45 p.m. with local favorite Southern Flood, followed by Cori & Kelly from Panama City, the Adventures of Annabelle Lyn from Tallahassee and Tennille Arts, leading up to headliner Maddie & Tae.

The park closes at 11 p.m.

“We would like to thank everyone in the cokmmunty for their support of not only the 55th annual Florida Seafood Festival but the community itself,” said Solomon. “We would also like to thank all of our sponsors, including Visit Florida and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association for helping us getting the word out that we are open for business in franklin County.

“We would like everyone to come and enjoy themselves and have a great time. Enjoy our county’s restaurants, lodging and shops while you’re here,” he said.

“The volunteers have worked very hard this year to make sure that this festival happens and it’s not an easy undertaking on any given year but this year the challenges were greater,” Solomon said. “But they have been accomplished and that speaks volumes of the volunteers who are committed to this festival and of Franklin County.”