For nature enthusiasts like Katie MacMillen, Pasco Palms Preserve is a hidden jewel, a coastal hammock flourishing with wildlife, birds, big trees and woodland wildflowers not far from the hustle and bustle of U.S. 19.
"It's just quiet and serene," said MacMillen, 49, an educator for Pasco County's Environmental Lands Division who guides regular tours through local preserves. "It's a great place to go to just get away from everything."
Locals and tourists alike can do just that Nov. 9-12 as the county hosts its second Pasco EcoFest. The family-friendly event kicks off at 4 p.m. Nov. 9 with MacMillen's "Hammock in the Gloaming," a three-quarter-mile guided trek through Pasco Palms Preserve that is scheduled to embark about the time the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico.
If hiking is not your thing, there are plenty of other options. EcoFest offers a plethora of outdoor and educational activities at six Pasco parks and preserves as well as other locations in downtown New Port Richey. (For a full schedule of events visitpascoecofest.com.)
Think kayaking at James Grey Preserve; stand-up paddle boarding at Sims Park; yoga at Frances Avenue Park; river rides on the Pithlachascotee; as well as bird-watching, camping, stargazing, drum circles, flagmaking and a beach bonfire. Shop at the fresh ecomarket at the New Port Richey Library, take in a nature art exhibit at Peace Hall or attend workshops to learn about medicinal plants, soil blocking and container gardening.
A new twist for EcoFest 2012 is the addition of the Harvest Fest — Bluegrass and BBQ, featuring three days of music, food, arts and crafts, kids zone and more at Sims Park in downtown New Port Richey. Entertainment includes Hwy 41 South bluegrass band, Smokey's Farmland Band, Cotey Embry & Mariel, Ed Write, Foothill Bluegrass Band and the Old Folkers.
Back this year by popular demand is the Geocaching Challenge, which features a hikers poker run; a walking and bicycling poker run, as well as a shorter course for families with young children.
"Some call it a sport. Some call it a hobby," said Paul Herman, 63, who is organizing the outdoor treasure hunt in which participants use a GPS device, smartphone or compass to find the various "caches" or containers that have been placed throughout the park.
"It's a lot of fun," Herman said. "People who do this challenge will be hiking around a bit and they're going to see all sorts of interesting things they might not have seen before."