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Updated: June 7, 2022

Portland festival showcases city's working waterfront

Coast Guard boats at Portland dock Photo / Renee Cordes Five U.S. Coast Guard vessels participated in Saturday's Walk the Working Waterfront festival in Portland.

After the return Saturday of Portland's "Walk the Working Waterfront" festival, the organizer is already thinking about next year. 

The event, held for the first time since 2019, drew crowds numbering over 1,000. More than 40 businesses participated.  The festival featured a broad variety of activities and a self-guided tour along Commercial Street and its wharves. Highlights included a tuna-dissection demonstration on the Gulf of Maine Research Institute campus, onboard tours of five U.S. Coast Guard vessels and food samplings from clam chowder to monkfish stew.

Eimskip, the Icelandic-owned shipping and logistics company anchored at the International Marine Terminal, participated with two empty cargo containers that visitors could enter for a rare inside glimpse. Company representatives handed out bottled water from Iceland.

The event was organized by the New England Ocean Cluster, a private-sector, member-based consultancy-meets-business incubator based at the Hus, on Portland's waterfront.

"The seventh installation of Walk the Working Waterfront was everything we hoped it would be," Chris Cary, chief operating and marketing officer of the New England Ocean Cluster, told Mainebiz. "Even though lingering concerns surrounding the pandemic shortened our preparation period, we were able to generate significant interest in participation amongst the businesses that line Commercial Street."

Elmskip empty cargo container
Photo / Renee Cordes
Saturday's festival featured empty Eimskip containers visitors could walk into for a rare inside glimpse.

Cary said that while it's hard to pinpoint the number of visitors exactly, he estimates that 1,000 to 1,500 people participated from end-to-end of Commercial Street. 

"This event is fundamentally about showcasing the critical role that working waterfront infrastructure plays in supporting the interdisciplinary composition of Maine’s blue economy, he said. “Walk the Working Waterfront endeavors to do this by making these amazing people and places accessible to the community for the day.”

He added that the organizer was pleased have had as many businesses and visitors supporting the event in 2022 as three years earlier.

"This was also the first time the event was run on its own, traditionally falling on the same weekend as the Old Port Festival," he noted. "This required a new approach to marketing. Being a grassroots and community-driven initiative, the supporting businesses really banded together to get the word out and promote the event organically."

He also gave a shout-out to more than 20 event volunteers and to Rugged Seas, a mission-driven fishing-accessory startup that supplied volunteers with T-shirts and provided informational support from the company's new pop-up store on Union Wharf.

GMRI was equally pleased with Saturday's turnout.

“Increasingly, a lack of waterfront access for marine businesses is one of the major challenges facing working waterfronts in Maine, throughout New England, and around the world,” said Jonathan Labaree, GMRI's chief community officer.

“In order to preserve and protect working waterfronts for generations to come, it’s so important to celebrate the local businesses that power our blue economy — so we were thrilled to support this event again this year.”

As for what happens next, Cary said, "In the weeks and months ahead, we look forward to debriefing with event collaborators and supporters, and setting plans for 2023." Separately, a spokesperson for GMRI said his organization plans to participate again next year. 

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