WEEKI WACHEE — They may not have crawled out of the swamp, but it will look as if they had.
And along with the swamp creatures, there will be plenty of swamp vittles — like alligator, jambalaya and crab cakes.
Yes, it is time for the annual Weeki Wachee Swamp Fest, which kicks off today and continues through Sunday at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
The event, now in its 23rd year, will feature more than 100 art and craft vendors, a food court, continuous musical entertainment, the popular Swamp Monster contest and a raffle featuring more than 200 prize drawings.
The Swamp Fest is a fundraiser to benefit the Hernando Environmental Land Protectors, the Weeki Wachee Crime Watch, the Weeki Wachee Area Club and other local nonprofit organizations.
To help attendees, the Arc Nature Coast will provide rides on six courtesy shuttles to and from a remote parking lot.
"We moved the remote parking to the (Believers Christian Fellowship) church last year, and it worked out so much better," said Karen Lenhard, Swamp Fest president. "It's wheelchair accessible, and there really shouldn't be any wait time."
Lenhard said this year's event will offer more than in previous years. In fact, as part of the festivities, visitors can experience all of the amenities at Weeki Wachee Springs, including the Buccaneer Bay water park, which has been closed for the winter months.
"We are excited about (Buccaneer Bay) opening this weekend," said John Athanason, marketing coordinator at Weeki Wachee Springs. "The timing works out perfect for the Swamp Fest, and the weather is perfect."
Athanason said additional mermaid shows and river cruises will be added for the weekend festivities. There will be five mermaid shows on both Saturday and Sunday, and they will include the popular Legendary Sirens, mermaids who have performed at the park over the years.
The success of the Swamp Fest, Lenhard said, is due in large part to the hard work of the volunteers who put it together.
"They give so many hours of their time," she said.
Although she got involved with the event in 1995, Lenhard remembers attending the first Swamp Fest, which was just a small community get-together after the devastation of the no-name storm of March 1993. It was a fundraiser to fix the roof of the community clubhouse. Lenhard and her husband, who were at the end of a two-month stay in the Weeki Wachee area when the storm hit, had to extend their stay after losing their car in the storm. It was during the aftermath that they decided to make the small community their home.
"Everyone just banded together," Lenhard remembers. "And we just fell in love with the area and the people here."