For Jim Sackett and Gerrey Stewart of Bowie, Bay Day began at 4:30 a.m.
Eight hours later, they sat on the beach at Sandy Point, scooting back to avoid encroaching waves, sipping beer and watching their friends' children wade in the bay.
As anyone stuck in the late morning and early afternoon traffic yesterday on College Parkway and U.S. 50 could tell you, it paid to get an early start for the 17th annual Bay Bridge Walk and the accompanying Bayfest.
By 1 p.m., event organizers were predicting last year's record crowd of 65,000 bridge walkers would fall -- and they wereon the radio telling anyone thinking of dropping in at the last minute to not even bother trying.
Sackett and Stewart got an early start because walking the 4.3-mile Bay Bridge wasn't enough. No, they ran the bridge, and then some, as part of a 10K race.
"It was a great day for a race," Sackett said, explaining he ran a personal best time of 35 minutes and 54 seconds on a morning cool and cloudy enough to prevent worries of heat stroke. And sitting on the beach under an early afternoon sun, with food stands and music only a short trot away, well, that's a bonus you don't often get at most foot races.
As Sackett's friend Gary Schnell said, "A lot of the races you just run the race and leave." But Schnell, who came down from Audubon, N.J., said there was more to do than just eat and sun yourself.
He said he enjoyed the displays and literature passed out by environmental groups and spoke of his 4-year-old daughter's blooming awareness of ecology. "She asks now about where you throw the cans and stuff," he said.
Through race-entry and sponsorship fees and proceeds from food and T-shirt sales, the fifth annual Bayfest celebration was expected to raise about $40,000 for the Chesapeake Bay Trust, said Rick Leader,event director.
Leader said money raised goes to the Trust's grant fund, which provides grants to ecology-minded community groups for stream cleanups, tree and marsh grass plantings, erosion-control projects and environmental education programs.
Signs of the Save the Bay spirit were visible throughout the park. A rabbit in the Blue Sky Puppet Theater told children to use a light touch with the heat and air conditioning in their home, saying, "Not too cold, not too hot, make the most of what we've got."
One sign read, "Bayfest Big Top, featuring an extravaganza of entertaining and informative Bay exhibits." Inside, members of groups such as the Chesapeake Clean-Up Campaign, the USDA Soil Conservation Service and the Sierra Club passed out literature and explained displays.
Mike Strawbridge of the Carrie Murray Outdoor Education Center in Baltimore kept an eye on a screech owl, a hawk and a barre owl named Cody who watched his every move.
"We're into saving the birds of Maryland, the birds of prey," Strawbridge said. "A lot of kids like to throw things at birds, but the kids who see these birds see they are very majestic animals."
Pine seedlings were given away by the state Department of the Environment and the Bay Trust passed out wildflower seed packets. Baltimore Gas andElectric Co. and the Trust gave away low-flow, water-saving faucet aerators.
The fair also featured music by the Crabtown Big Band, the Hard Travelers and Johnny Monet and the Impressionists. More than 100 wind-surfers were to compete in an Olympic-class sailing regatta.
And for anyone willing to wait in long lines, the choices of food ranged from pit beef to barbecued chicken quarters to apple dumplings to ribs to "clam chowder and soft-shell clams (steamed in a bag)."
In fact, standing in line was one thing nearly everyone at Bayfestdid. Standing in line for food, drink -- and for the buses taking bridge walkers back to their cars at the Chesapeake Bay Business Park in Stevensville, the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis and Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold.