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Beaufort Shrimp Festival

There are big doings planned this fall for the Lowcountry's favorite little crustacean. The 16th annual Beaufort Shrimp Festival – a seafood celebration showcasing some of the area's most raved-about shrimp fare – will be headlined by Forrest Gump's shrimp boat first mate Lt. Dan.

Actor and musician Gary Sinise, who portrayed the disabled Vietnam vet-turned-shrimper in the 1994 big screen blockbuster, will open the festival Oct. 1 with a free concert featuring the Lt. Dan Band. It's the first time the Oscar-nominated star has returned to Beaufort since filming "Forrest Gump."

A tireless supporter of U.S. troops, particularly those injured in action, Sinise also is sponsoring the Lt. Dan Independence Ride, a cycling event for wounded warriors and novice and competitive riders.

In addition, the two-day festival includes a 5K walk and run, crafts market, kids' activities, a shrimp-heading-and-peeling competition and a rubber shrimp race fundraiser. The festivities begin at 6 p.m. Friday at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Vendors from seven local restaurants will be serving up samplings of some of their best-selling shrimp delicacies. Food and drink tickets are $1 each. At 8 p.m., the Lt. Dan Band takes the stage, performing covers of everything from Springsteen to Linkin Park.

Saturday morning, the fun continues with the 5K Popcorn Shrimp Run over the Woods Memorial Bridge and a 5K "Walk through History" in the historic Old Point neighborhood. Both events start downtown at Bay and Newcastle streets. Lt. Dan's Ride also will begin in the Historic District, continuing along U.S. 21 to the Marine Corps Air Station, where cyclists will complete one, two or three 12-mile loops around the airfield before returning downtown.

The less athletically inclined may prefer to compete in the rubber shrimp race. You can adopt a numbered shrimp Friday night at the festival and root for it as it races in a 5,000-crustacean swim Saturday morning in the Beaufort River along Waterfront Park. Floating with the tide toward a trap, the rubber shrimp will be forced into a single-file line at the finish. The first 10 shrimp will earn cash prizes, with the big winner raking in $2,000. The highlight of the two-day festival takes place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. when 15 local restaurants roll out their best shrimp dishes to compete for prizes, including "Best" and "Most Creative" recipes and the "People's Choice" award. Vote for your favorite among the fried, sautéed, boiled, broiled and baked entrees and appetizers that will be for sale throughout the day. Many restaurants also will be serving non-seafood items.

"All food vendors at the festival are required to use fresh South Carolina wild-caught shrimp," said LaNelle Fabian, executive director of Main Street Beaufort, the nonprofit organization co-sponsoring the event with the South Carolina Shrimpers Association.

This year, the two groups partnered with Independence Fund to bring more than 50 severely wounded war veterans to Beaufort during the week of the event.