This year's Mattituck Strawberry Festival hopes to boast strong produce and even stronger crowds.
With clear, sunny weather expected throughout the weekend, festival volunteers from the Mattituck Lions Club were busy setting up in preparation for the 5 o'clock opening Thursday.
"It was a great crop season due to the weather and sun we've had," said Walter Peterson, third vice president of The Mattituck Lions. "The berries look nice and big," he added as he set up an ATM stand for the patrons.
Peterson, 43, and his team of more than 500 volunteers have been working since Sunday, beginning every morning at 7:30 a.m. to set up for the big event. They hope to have one of their highest turnouts ever this year, after last year's festival saw a lot of rain and scant crowds.
"I've already noticed the difference," said Mattituck resident Kyle Kratoville, 17. "Just riding around on my bike, there are a lot more tourists, a lot more out-of-state license plates," he said.
Kratoville and his family come to the festival every year to enjoy the attractions, including theme-park rides, food stands and, of course, the local produce. In addition, they come to support the local Lions Club, which uses the money to make donations to worthy causes.
"It's a huge community gathering that really brings us together," said Peterson. "It's our largest community fundraiser, which allows us to donate the money we raise all year round," he said.
The largest portion of the festival's proceeds goes to supporting the vision- and hearing-impaired on Long Island. The Lions also use the money to support local charities, hospitals, youth programs and people in need, said Peterson, who has lived in Mattituck for 19 years.
The 56th annual Strawberry Festival is also starting a new tradition this summer. By opening the rides on Thursday's "Hulling Night" for the first time this year, organizers aim to attract record crowds and hopefully make up for some of the losses from last year's rainout.