The 2023 Culver Crawdad Festival takes place Saturday, Aug 19 at Culver City Park.
The festival is a family-oriented event celebrating crawdads, freshwater lobsters that are commercially harvested from nearby Lake Billy Chinook.
On this edition of The Great Outdoors, Brooke Snavely explores what goes on at the Culver Crawdad Festival.
The Crawdad Festival begins with a parade at 10 am along the main drag through Culver, a town of 1,700 people in Jefferson County.
It is an energetic parade in which it seems half the town participates, and the other half enjoys watching.
There’s a marching band, fire trucks and floats decked out in crawdad themes.
Candy is tossed to children and children at heart lining the parade route.
After the parade, the action shifts to the Culver City Park a block away.
“I started the crawdad fest with Bill and Bertie and Heather and Rich Holbert,” said Jess Smith, Culver. “It was my idea and my place but without all those other people it would have never come together. It just got bigger and bigger. It got up to around 1,000 people.”
Jess Smith says the Culver Crawdad Festival began as a private event in the 1980s on his farm south of town.
The City of Culver took over the festival in 2010 in honor of the town’s centennial.
There’s no admission and lots of free activities for children including face painting, pinata smashing and a book walk.
“We’ve got a little book that we are giving away. We’ve got a poster that tells the story. We’re asking kids to read the story signs along the way and then we’ve got some goodies for them,” said Jane Ellen Innes, Jefferson County Library Director. “I did not know that crawdads are in the mud all the time. But I know that now because I just read it.”
There’s even a father and son duo walking around in crawdad costumes posing for pictures.
“It’s a big hit. Everybody’s like ‘Hey, the crawdads!’ said Noah Kaiser, Culver. “We just got done with the parade throwing out a bunch of candy.”
The crawdad boil is the main focus of the festival featuring crawdads harvested from Lake Billly Chinook, and for that you will pay.
Crawdad connoisseurs have their choice of crawdad Louise salad, Cajun crawdad rolls, smoked chicken and crawdad gumbo.
“They are good, but they are a lot of work to eat,” said Paul Phillips, who has a vacation home in nearby Three Rivers but hails from Scapoose. “It would be nice to have a nutcracker to crack the claws, but they are good.”
Phillips described the taste of crawdads as a cross between lobster and crab.
This year’s crawdad festival features a “play where the crawdads stay” raffle with prizes for free use of party barges and pontoon boats on Lake Billy Chinook.
Revenues from the raffle will be used to fund the construction of a skate park in Culver.
“I like seeing this,” Smith said. “I’m just amazed how many people come to these things. Social functions for towns. You know, the big cities you can’t do that but a town like Culver, yeah, we can shut the town down.”
If you develop a taste for crawdads, know that you can catch them in local rivers and lakes with crawdad traps. No license is required.
All you need is a crawdad trap baited with something smelly. A lot of crawdad fishers use small cans of moist cat food, perforated so that the flavor disperses in the water. Check your trap after a few hours and you’ll probably have quite a few crawdads.