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Weeki Wachee Swamp Fest to celebrate Old Florida

WEEKI WACHEE

Aman dressed from head to toe in Spanish moss. A woman outfitted in a dress made entirely of palmetto fronds. Such attire will be considered high fashion as Weeki Wachee holds its 16th annual Swamp Fest.

The event celebrates the area's marshy environs with "swamp cuisine" like alligator tail kabobs and swamp cabbage soup and annually chooses the best homemade swamp monster costume. It will take place Saturday and Sunday at Linda Pedersen Park at Jenkins Creek.

Over the years, the festival has attracted a loyal following that seems to enjoy the laid-back, nature-conscious lifestyle of this close-knit community.

"It's just a nice little family-oriented festival," said longtime Weeki Wachee resident Joyce Steele, who acts as arts and crafts chairwoman for the event, which attracts upward of 8,000 visitors. "I suppose that's what keeps people coming back year after year."

Swamp Fest began humbly in 1994, when the newly formed Weeki Wachee Area Club began looking for ways to raise money to build its headquarters.

The membership turned to longtime resident Don Deedrick, who suggested staging a one-day flea market at the back of a local campground, with entertainment, arts and crafts and food vendors.

"It wasn't much more than a little community party that was held in a dusty old parking lot," said Don Fish, who helped organize the inaugural event.

Though that first event raised only a few hundred dollars, it was enough to get the building started. More important, it inspired the club to make the festival an annual event.

As the festival grew, so did its scope. The club started inviting area environmental preservation and wildlife groups to set up workshops and information booths.

In addition to funding Weeki Wachee Area Club activities, proceeds went to other civic and environmental groups such as Weeki Wachee Crime Watch and the Hernando Land Protectors.

After several years at the Weeki Wachee Christian Camp, the event moved to Linda Pedersen Park, off Shoal Line Boulevard, a few years ago in an effort to better accommodate the 150 arts and craft vendors that typically set up for the weekend.

Despite the current economic downturn, Steele says vendor interest has not wavered. This week, she was still jockeying for space for latecomers.

"We charge $80 to set up a booth," Steele said. "Most of the vendors consider that to be a pretty good deal."

In addition to arts and crafts, the festival will have continuous entertainment both days. Scheduled to perform are the Eddie McConnell Band, Lynn Poindexter, the Sundance Band, Dixie Blue-Classic Country, the Spring Hill Acoustic Guitar Club and others.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1435.

if you go

Swamp Fest

The 16th annual festival will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Linda Pedersen Park at Jenkins Creek, 6400 Shoal Line Blvd., Weeki Wachee. Admission is $2 for adults, free for children under 12 with an adult. Parking is free. For information, call (352) 596-3987 or visit wwswampfest.com.

Weeki Wachee Swamp Fest to celebrate Old Florida 03/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 5, 2009 4:05pm]
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