Visitors stood in line for the low country shrimp boil. [ Wendy Weitzel | The Star ]
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Locals and visitors gather to celebrate St. Joseph Bay

The parking lot at the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve was already full by 11 a.m. on Saturday. Volunteers had to get creative to accommodate the vehicles of a line of eager guests, which stretched for blocks.

Some were directed to park in front of trees. Others were arranged by the amount of time they planned to be there.

But despite the hassle, volunteers were in good spirits, with the Winter Bay Day celebration having one of the largest turnouts in recent memory.

“Things are going really great today,” said Dylan Shoemaker, the Buffer reserve’s manager, as he looked out over the crowd. “We have people here from all over. The Friends members have added on this year. They’ve added some more vendor space.”

The Friends of St. Joseph Bay Preserves’ biannual Bay Day celebrations, which happen in the fall and the winter every year, are some of the organization’s largest fundraisers. 

Money collected from the events go towards maintaining the preserve and supporting its mission. The St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve was established in 1995 to protect the surrounding uplands for preservation of the bay’s pristine natural resources and water quality.

This time around, Bay Day featured a low country shrimp boil, tram tours of the preserve, live music, a silent auction, booths from various local environmental organizations and a drinks concession stand.

“In February, it’s the biggest crowd that we have.The Friends group really goes after not only locals, but everybody who came down to hang out. They come from all over the place…” Shoemaker said. “This is really the perfect time for the Friends Group to be able to explain ‘hey, this is who we are, and we protect the buffer and the bay.’”

The Friends of St. Joseph Bay Preserves, Inc., is a non-profit Citizen Support Organization established in 2003 to protect and preserve one of the most ecologically significant areas in the Southeastern United States, and to support the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve and St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve.

“It’s a great organization to be a part of,” said Shoemaker.

For more information about the Friends group, visit