NEW PORT RICHEY — Northern chill meets balmy south when two local holiday traditions converge on Saturday for a celebration along the Pithlachascotee River.
Thirty tons of "snow" will be blown in for Winterfest, a free, family-friendly event that originated 8 years ago in Trinity.
The event, which starts at 3 p.m., offers revelers the opportunity to frolic in the white stuff while catching a prime viewing spot for a decked-out flotilla of holiday cheer Florida-style when the 18th annual Cotee River Christmas Parade gets underway between 6 and 6:30 p.m. from Miller’s Bayou in Port Richey.
The boat parade, sponsored by Greater New Port Richey Main Street and the Bayou Business Association, will feature vessels of all kinds — from kayaks to speedboats — adorned in stringed lights and illuminations that reflect off the water as they glide down the river to a judging station in Sims Park.
It is the first of two weekend holiday celebrations in downtown New Port Richey. Main Street Holidays, featuring the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce annual holiday street parade, will be held on Dec. 9 in the down town area.
There will be plenty to take in this Saturday while folks are waiting for the boat parade to reach Sims Park, said Dr. Stephen Unger, who founded a fall festival in the Long Leaf community, that eventually morphed into Winterfest held at Seven Springs Middle School.
"The ideas was to create an event that families and kids could enjoy without having to buy a wristband or pay for it," he said.
This year Unger opted to collaborate with Greater New Port Richey Main Street and the Bayou Business Association, moving Winterfest to downtown New Port Richey as a preamble to the boat parade.
People typically start gathering late afternoon to catch a spot of the parade, said Steve Schurdell, president of Greater New Port Richey Main Street. "This gives them something fun to do while they are waiting."
Among the activities at Winterfest — face painting, bounce houses, superhero and princess characters, snow ball target tossing, "sledding" and free photo booth pictures.
"We’re going for the whole winter atmosphere — the ambience. The whole park will be lit up with Christmas lights," Unger said, adding that several vendors will be on site offering free giveaways.
"As northerners who miss the snow, this is really a special event," Schurdell said adding that last year, Greater New Port Richey Main Street brought 5 tons of snow for their own smaller "winter" event held last year in Cavalier Square.
"We were just amazed how much the kids loved it. We saw kids that had never seen snow before, and saw a lot of parents that couldn’t afford to give their kids an experience like that. Then we heard that Dr. Unger brought in 30 tons (of snow) for Winterfest. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we brought that here?’
"It’s a whole lot of organizations trying to do something good for the community," Shurdell said, giving a nod to contributing sponsors and organizations as well as the city of New Port Richey.
"This is just a phenomenal community event. It’s really going to be something special for kids around the most special time of the year."