SAN ANTONIO — About this time last year, everyone was preparing to bid adieu to a long-held tradition that was famous for giving some the creepy crawlers.
But thanks to a new presenter, backed by a slate of sponsors, the annual Rattlesnake Festival will be held as usual on the third weekend of October, marking 51 straight years of entertainment, education and altruism. Organizers are expecting about 10,000 to come out for the festival, which will take place Saturday and Sunday at San Antonio City Park.
The event, which once included a contest where rattlesnakes were rounded up to be measured and weighed, with the winner leaving with a pair of snakeskin boots, started out as a Jaycee project in 1967, as a way to help local youth. Snake handlers, who would milk venom and offer educational talks, were the main attraction by the time the Rattlesnake and Gopher Enthusiasts (R.A.G.E.) took it over in the late 1970s. Local Rotary clubs stepped up after that, till finally it was left to members of the San Antonio Rotary Club, who managed the event with a modest amount of devoted volunteers. As the 50th anniversary of the Rattlesnake Festival approached in 2016, the Rotarians decided to pack it in. The Thomas Promise Foundation, based in Zephyrhills, stepped up.
This year’s Rattlesnake Festival will offer a blend of old favorites and new beginnings. Back by popular demand are the snake and gator shows, the wooden gopher tortoise races and Cowboy Tom’s Wild West Show. Among the new attractions: a pumpkin patch, a craft beer garden and a bit of a changeup in music.
In years past, the genre was more folk-like, said event organizer Joe Simmons, noting that this year’s performers include Most Wanted (rock), the Fort Green Pickin’ Society (bluegrass/country) and Cottondale Swamp (Americana).
The event offers free admission as well as kids games and rides, arts and crafts and about 90 vendors — up from 26 last year.
The annual Rattlesnake Run will get under way at 8 a.m. Saturday, featuring a 5-mile and 1-mile race, and a 1-mile dog race through the hilly landscape.
Proceeds from the festival will benefit the Thomas Promise Foundation. Since 2011, the nonprofit organization has provided food to local children in need, as well as assistance with school field trips, clothes and athletic expenses. Each week, the foundation fills backpacks with nonperishable and nutritious food for students and their families.
The organization serves from 1,300 to 1,400 students at 23 schools, Simmons said. Thomas Promise recently assisted families and community members who were sheltered in various schools during Hurricane Irma, and has broadened its outreach to Fivay High School in west Pasco.
"The more we can help the merrier, we figure," said Simmons, noting that sponsoring the festival has been mutually beneficial to the community and the foundation. "We’ve had a lot of people that have been very pleased that we decided to keep the festival going. We’ve been able to keep the tradition and help raise awareness for our foundation."
Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] Follow @MicheleMiller52.