Coalition vows to save Fish Day at mayor’s urging

Group comes together to plan reimagined July event after organization historically responsible for festival cancels it

A family enjoyed fish and chips in Port Washington's Veterans Park during last year's Fish Day. Press file photo
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington Mayor Ted Neitzke said Monday there will be a Fish Day this summer after all, and it will be a reimagined festival that incorporates all the traditions the city is used to but in a different form.

The festival is likely to be a three-day event, he said, with an expanded grounds and opportunities for businesses, civic groups and others to participate.

Right now, Neitzke said, the vision is for a Thursday event in Veterans Park with activities centered around teens, while Friday will emphasize class and family reunions.

Saturday’s event will include many of the events that people cherish, he said, including the Portal Fish Day run/walk, a parade, fireworks, music and, of course, fish.

The grounds may encompass more than the traditional Upper Lake Park and Veterans Park, spilling onto Franklin Street and Coal Dock Park, he said.

  Neitzke’s announcement that a festival will be held was made after he met with about 40 members of the community for about an hour Saturday to discuss how to bring back Port’s signature festival after Port Fish Day Inc. announced it would not stage the event this year.

The vision Neitzke outlined was reiterated by two of those attending Saturday’s brainstorming session at City Hall who emphasized that there are no final plans for this year’s festival.

“Everything is on the table,” Andy Hill, a downtown businessman who is among the organizers, said.

Hill and Dave Mueller, a member of the Port Lions Club who spearheaded efforts to hold Fishtival during the pandemic, said Tuesday that they hope to come up with firmer plans during a Wednesday, Feb. 22, meeting with Neitzke, noting that the third Saturday in July is coming soon.

“What we’re envisioning is a Fish Day Forward,” Mueller said.

The hope is to get the community more involved in Fish Day, he said. In addition to events in Veterans and Upper lake parks, he said, the group wants to incorporate the farmers market and beer garden into Fish Day and hold some events along Franklin Street so businesses can benefit from the festival and it has more of a community street festival feeling.

Mueller said the group wants to get Port Main Street Inc. and the Port Tourism Council involved.

It’s only right that Fish Day helps benefit the downtown businesses that support the civic groups that traditionally have made much of their money for the year selling fish and chips on Fish Day, he noted.

“It used to be just about us,” Mueller said of the civic groups. “It can’t always be just about us. We need the whole downtown community to support us and we need to support them.”

“We want to make it about more than beer and fish,” Hill added. “We want to showcase all Port Washington has to offer — the marina, the downtown, the parks.”

The group that is planning this year’s festival mobilized after Port Fish Day Inc. said it was putting the city’s largest festival “on hiatus” for myriad  reasons, including a lack of volunteers, both on the Fish Day committee and the civic groups that operate the food and beverage stands, and difficulty in obtaining funding for the festival.

Port Fish Day President Mary Monday has not returned calls seeking comment.

Fish Day Inc.’s announcement spurred Neitzke to spearhead an effort to ensure the event continues, and he said it’s an effort embraced by many.

The group that met Saturday encompassed teens to senior citizens and included representatives of service clubs, restaurants, businesses, churches, civic and charitable groups, entertainment companies and residents who are willing to help stage a new Fish Day, he said.

“We didn’t once talk about what it used to be but what we want it to be,” he said.

“No matter what, there will be something this year.”

The goal, Neitzke said, is to reimagine Fish Day for today.

“We’ve already been the world’s largest one day outdoor fish fry,” he said. “Let’s just keep evolving.”

By spreading the festival over three days, Mueller said, the same number of people may attend Fish Day but it won’t feel as crowded.

Neitzke said he was thrilled with Saturday’s turnout to plan a festival.

“I thought, if I get 10 people here, I’ll be happy,’” he said. “You hear of all these local festivals dying because they don’t have volunteers. I think we have to engage with people in a different way.”

More than 60 people have committed to helping with the festival, he said.

Mueller said that members of Port Fish Day Inc. are welcome to join the group as it works to create a new iteration of the festival.

“They’re the ones who said it’s on hiatus,” he said. We’re trying to re-envision it. We don’t want it to not happen. This is the community’s party.”

“There’s a huge degree of enthusiasm,” Hill said. “We have some energetic drivers who are interested in staging Fish Day 2023 and creating something sustainable for the future. It’s critical we keep this tradition alive.”



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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