WEEKI WACHEE — Shirley Butler was a prominent Weeki Wachee activist.
Because of her efforts — along with those of her husband, Jerry, and best friend, Linda Pedersen — the U.S. Postal Service acknowledged Weeki Wachee as a legitimate mailing address. She also was the visionary and longtime organizer of the annual Weeki Wachee Swamp Fest.
As the 17th annual Swamp Fest takes place Saturday and Sunday at Linda Pedersen Park, it will be dedicated to Butler, who died in September.
"Shirley was instrumental and one of the primary forces in putting the Swamp Fest together," said event president Roger Davidson. "It was her idea."
Butler and Pedersen, who died in 2000, created and organized the first Swamp Fest in 1994. It started as a small community fundraising event, then grew into an event that now attracts more than 12,000 people statewide to the small river community.
This year's event will include more than 160 vendors, a food court and drawings for more than 200 prizes throughout the weekend. The grand prize will be a 14-karat gold pendant of this year's event mascot, created by Sampson Jewelers. The Swamp Mascot is a Florida chameleon, created by Cheri Preston of Hudson.
"This is a family event," Davidson said. "There will be no alcohol, no coolers." Food and refreshments will be offered from about 15 food vendors.
New this year is the Lil' Critter Corner, a game area for children that includes prizes. The children's area is sponsored by the Hernando County Parks and Recreation Department.
There will be continuous entertainment with performances of folk and country music, cloggers, singers and dancers.
One highlight of the event will be the Swamp Monster Contest on Saturday. Those wishing to compete should arrive at 9 a.m. to sign up. All contestants must be at the Variety Stage, in costume, no later than 10 a.m. Judging will take place about 10:45 a.m. Cash awards will be presented: $100 for first place, $50 for second place and $25 for third place.
Although much larger than Butler and Pedersen's first Swamp Fest 17 years ago, this year's version is still a community event, Davidson said. Organized by the Hernando Environmental Land Protectors, the Weeki Wachee Crime Watch and the Weeki Wachee Area Club, Davidson said, 200 or more volunteers have helped to pull the event together.
"We're just praying for very good weather," he said.