Take 4,000 crabs, 1,000 pounds of catfish, 4,000 oysters, 5,000 clams and 150 gallons of seafood gumbo.

Add about 10,000 soft drinks, 25,000 beers, 27 large tents, 1,000 volunteers, a year's worth of planning and a whole lot more and what you get is the 25th annual Maryland Seafood Festival.

The three-day festival, the biggest of its kind in Maryland and one of the biggest in the country, kicked off its 25th year Friday at Sandy Point State Park by dishing up more seafood delicacies than canbe found anywhere else this side of the Mississippi.

John and Sandy Anderson drove three hours from Quarryville, Pa. to attend the event, and John doesn't even like seafood.

Sandy, on the other hand, is a real fan of Maryland hard-shelled blue crabs and planned to haveherself a few as soon as she digested the gyro she picked up as an appetizer.

"We're really enjoying it, and the setting by the bay isa nice plus," she said.

Although the weather kept threatening to turn ugly Friday afternoon, it didn't dampen the spirits of hundreds of seafood lovers who turned out for the opening day. The festival isexpected to attract 40,000 to 50,000 people from a half-dozen statesover three days.

Dick Schultz, president of the festival's board of directors, said at last count, 18 bus tours from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey were lined up to attend the event.

"I would like to see this become one of the biggest East Coast events that there is," said Schultz, who promised that planning for next year'sfestival would begin as soon as the books are closed on this year.

The festival, a non-profit subsidiary of the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce, is put together almost entirely by volunteers.

The only paid help is for security guards, electricians and local boy scout troops who come in to clean up each day.

Fifteen area non-profit organizations raise money for community services and programs by running the food and beverage stands.

Jean Herndon, from the MountZion Methodist Church in Annapolis, said her church hopes to make atleast $5,000 from its booth, which features seafood gumbo and crab cakes. Last year, the church netted about $8,000 to use for its outreach programs and building fund.

Each organization contributes 17.5 percent of its profits to the festival organization for operating expenses. The $5 admission price also goes toward operating expenses, Schultz said.

The festival is expected to bring in at least $300,000in gross sales, the amount raised last year, he said.

Besides plentiful seafood, ranging from lobster Thermidor to crab pie, the festival features live entertainment throughout the weekend, numerous activities for children and more than 25 crafts booth.

The Maryland Seafood Festival, started in 1966, actually began as an event to promote Maryland clams, one of the lesser known bounties of the Chesapeake Bay.

The Maryland Clam festival, as it was known until 1974, was held at the Annapolis City Dock until it outgrew that space and moved to Sandy Point in 1976. (There was no festival in 1975 because its new location was secured too late in the year to pull the event together.)

A 15-member board of directors and 32 standing committees planand organize the extravaganza each year.

And their efforts did not go unnoticed.

"There's a lot of good seafood here," said Peggy Atkinson of College Park. "And lots of nice crafts, too. I bought fournew rings."

"The crabs are big, and price-wise, they're reasonable," added pal Gail Smith, who has attended the past seven years.

The Maryland Seafood Festival continues today noon to 8:30 p.m. Admission is $5; free for children younger than 12 accompanied by an adult.

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