Yarmouth Clam Festival: ‘People just come here to have fun’

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Yarmouth Clam Festival 2017 from Sun Media on Vimeo. (Roger S. Duncan video)

YARMOUTH — With sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s, it was a perfect weekend for the 52nd annual Clam Festival.

But the success of an event of this magnitude can’t be attributed entirely to the weather.

From the Chamber of Commerce and nonprofit volunteers to school booster, church, and civic groups, it was a combined, community effort to pull off this year’s festival July 21-23.

One of the most unappreciated efforts may come from the Yarmouth Police Department; the officers strolling through clouds of heat and Fryolator steam, in black polyester uniforms with 35 pounds of equipment strapped to their waists.

They’re the ones who point visitors to the public restrooms and explain the quickest way to Route 1. Sure, this may seem like a breeze, but keeping an eye on a town that grows to nearly 14 times its size in a weekend is no small task.

It takes overtime. Sixteen or 17 hours per officer, according to the department. With all 13 sworn personnel on duty, alternating shifts throughout the weekend, it really is all hands on deck.

Lt. Dan Gallant’s typical Sunday shift is from 3 p.m.-1 a.m. On Sunday, he came into work at 11 a.m.

“When you get hired (at the Yarmouth Police Department), they basically tell you to reserve this weekend in July for the next 20 years,” Officer Amie Rapa said, laughing as she sought some shade from the midday sun under the Route 1 overpass on Main Street.

This was Rapa’s second Clam Festival as a patrol officer. Four years ago, she signed a one-year contract with YPD, before spending a few years working for the Portland Police Department.

Rapa said it would’ve been a different scene had she been patrolling this festival in a city like Portland, rather than Yarmouth.

“What I really love about this festival is (that), for the most part, it’s families here,” Rapa said. “It’s so tranquil … everyone is really involved.”

According to Gallant, criminal mischief at the festival has declined measurably in recent years. Now, the YPD typically just deals with drug- or alcohol-related incidents.

“I think (the YPD does) a good job, but we also are lucky,” Gallant said. “For the most part, people just come here to have fun.”

Gallant said in years past, officers responded to reports of violent fights breaking out during the festival, some involving weapons.

Rapa recalled one incident during her first Clam Festival, when one of her fellow officers was bit by someone who was suspected to have stolen a roll of carnival tickets from a game stand. This year, though, she said was much more tame.

Officer Michael Pierce patrolled the streets Sunday on foot with Rapa from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. for their final shift of the weekend. Pierce is a Yarmouth native and served as a full-time police officer for the Arlington County (Virginia) Police Department until returning to his hometown in 2011.

He is also Rapa’s field training officer, meaning they spend a lot of time patrolling together, and it showed.

The two seemed like old friends, strolling up and down Main Street, chatting about pets, cars, and yes, to confirm everything you thought you knew about police officers, doughnuts. Pierce always goes for strawberry frosted from Dunkin’ Donuts, but Rapa has more expensive taste; she prefers hers from Krispy Kreme or The Holy Donut in Portland.

“We try to keep the mood light,” Pierce said. “Because there is a lot during the weekend that will test your patience.”

“We’re all genuinely friends,” Rapa said.

Along their route, Rapa and Pierce were frequently stopped by festival-goers, some asking for directions, others for photos, and many to simply offer thanks and words of praise for the work the YPD puts into keeping their community safe.

Lenora Felker, director of Healthy Kids Happy Kids, took a moment to pause during Sunday morning’s Kids Fun Bike Ride to compliment the department.

“These guys are great,” she said. “They really make a connection to the community … We love them. We are so fortunate.”

From subtle head nods of acknowledgment to one man saying, “Thank you for watching over us,” it was clear the YPD’s efforts did not go unnoticed amid the food, games, crafts and performances of the Clam Festival.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

The Fire Department honor guard leads the Yarmouth Clam Festival parade down Main Street on Friday night, July 21. (Roger S. Duncan / For The Forecaster)

Officer Amie Rapa kneels to chat with a couple young visitors from Canada on Sunday, July 23, during the 52nd annual Yarmouth Clam Festival.  (Jocelyn Van Saun / The Forecaster)

Interstellar hero and guest of Cub Scout Pack 31, Chewbacca, greets Jeremy Stover, 4, of Scarborough, on Friday night, July 21, at the Yarmouth Clam Festival parade. (Roger S. Duncan / For The Forecaster)