BENTON — While there weren’t many takers for samples of the smoked fish that serves as the event’s namesake, dozens came out for the sixth annual Benton Alewife Festival on Saturday.

The festival, which was held in the town’s Family Fun Park, is a way to celebrate the impact that alewives have on the town. The small fish has long been a staple to the area, but over the decades rivers with dams and pollution in the waterways diminished the fish’s population. When dams in Augusta and Winslow were removed a few years ago, alewives returned to the region.

The event recognizes the small herring’s annual spring run from the Gulf of Maine to spawn in inland lakes. Benton has the largest run in the state and one of the largest on the East Coast, estimated at nearly 3 million fish.

June Karon, chairman of the festival, said about 100 people had come so far by midafternoon. Families could enjoy free events such as a bounce house, face painting, games for kids, smoked alewife samples, hot dogs, popcorn and horse-drawn carriage rides. A Fairfield firetruck was on display, along with a Delta ambulance. A few events cost money, such as riding Go Karts and sliding at the park’s inflatable water slides.

“It’s been steady,” she said, though at no point did it become overly busy.

Karon said the festival helps celebrate the economic impact that the alewives have on the town. Harvesting the fish tends to bring close to $20,000 into the town each year.

Susan Rodrigue holds a smoked alewife at the annual Benton Alewife Festival at Family Fun Park in Benton on Saturday. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

There were about 120 smoked alewives available for people to sample, though few were up for the challenge.

Waterville resident Dan Hood and his 2-year-old son, Austin, were among the brave who tried the herring, which is commonly used for lobster bait. They are also food for animals such as small mouth bass, otters and birds of prey.

“It was all right,” Hood said afterward. “It was fishy.”

Hood said he’s been to the festival before, but it was Austin’s first time. He said it was a good, productive thing for kids to do, and exposes them to different aspects of the community, like the firefighters and paramedics. As they were eating ice cream, he said they had done pretty much all the events available, including mini-golf and the bounce house.

“It was nice,” Hood said.

Dan Hood takes a bite out of a smoked alewife at the annual Benton Alewife Festival at Family Fun Park in Benton on Saturday. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Benton resident Laurie Brown brought her two grandchildren to the festival, where they played mini-golf as well as other games. It was their first time at the festival, she said, and they had all had a good day.

“They’re having fun,” she said.

Karon said Maine game wardens were on hand Saturday as well to talk to families, but she said the real crowd pleaser was the firetruck from Fairfield.

Last year, wardens from the Animal Planet television show “North Woods Law” presented, but Karon said they weren’t able to make it this year. Similarly, the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office was supposed to be at the event, but had to cancel at the last minute. Despite these absences, Karon said the festival is a good opportunity for the community to come together and interact.

“It’s nice, it’s a chance to talk to people,” she said.

In addition to the Saturday festival, there was a lobster dinner held at the Benton Elementary School on Friday night. Karon said they sold out the 100 tickets for the meal which included a lobster, a baked potato, alewife chowder, corn on the cob, a yeast roll, Gifford’s ice cream, a cupcake and a drink.

It was also the first day of the year that the park on 269 Neck Road was open. Tim Martin, the new owner of the park, said things were going well. He said the festival is unique, as alewives themselves are unique for running upstream.

“I think it’s great for the town of Benton,” he said.

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

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