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Fifth annual Ecofest offers an opportunity to commune with nature in a single location

Pennsylvania herbalist Nathaniel Whitmore leads an edible mushroom walk at Jay B Starkey Wilderness Park during last year’s Pasco EcoFest.

Courtesy of Lia Gallegos

Pennsylvania herbalist Nathaniel Whitmore leads an edible mushroom walk at Jay B Starkey Wilderness Park during last year’s Pasco EcoFest.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Looking for a weekend respite? Yearning to spend a couple of days communing with nature? The fifth annual Pasco EcoFest at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park just might fill the bill.

The two-day event this weekend, organized by Lia Gallegos and twin sisters Kacey and Kira Atkinson of Rock the Boat Productions, promises a schedule packed with activities meant to appeal to all ages.

Best of all, admission is free.

Unlike in years past, when EcoFest events were scattered in various west Pasco parks, everything will be in one strategic location this year.

Convenience was a driving force in pairing the event with Starkey Park, said Gallegos, 41, who started out as a volunteer in marketing the first EcoFest. The inaugural event was an ambitious endeavor featuring about 80 activities at 15 sites. In more recent years, activities were held primarily at Starkey Park and Sims Park, which is undergoing a renovation project. After gathering feedback, organizers discovered that traveling to various sites seemed a little overwhelming for those wanting to attend.

"It's a local event with a global appeal," Gallegos said. "We're focusing on the local economy and the local ecology, the creative side of the community, the community itself and, of course, the natural aspects of the area."

This year's intimate gathering comes with traditional and new offerings, plus the opportunity to camp on Saturday night in cabins or primitive sites.

EcoFest might appeal to newer residents wanting to get acquainted with the 8,300-acre park, which provides habitat to lots of wildlife and offers miles of biking, nature and equestrian trails, freshwater marshes, wide-open spaces, and picnic and camping areas.

"It's a great park and wildlife preserve for local residents," Gallegos said. "If you want to go camping for the weekend, you can pack up your car, drive 10 minutes and be out in the middle of nowhere."

Those attending EcoFest are welcome to venture down nature trails for a guided bird walk or, perhaps, a wild, edible plant trek. There's also the opportunity to take a yoga class, attend a variety of educational workshops and learn about the history of the preserve. Returning this year will be the popular Birds of Prey presentation, sponsored by the West Pasco Audubon Society.

"We want people to get educated on all these things," said Kacey Atkinson, 31. "But it's also about building a strong network and building community."

That includes the little ones.

The EcoKids area, sponsored by the Soulshine Family Arts Center of New Port Richey, will provide upcycled arts and crafts and organic gardening activities. There will be cornhole, a giant Jenga and hula-hooping. Add to that a lounge area for nursing mothers. Parents are also welcome to chat with a lactation consultant or attend a parenting talk.

"We're really excited to just showcase the family-friendly aspect of EcoFest," said Stephanie Carr, 27, who recently opened the Soulshine Family Arts Center with her husband, Marcus, 24. "It's going to be really, really fun."

The event transitions into Saturday night with stargazing. Joe Colantonio of the Pasco Astronomers will set up telescopes in a place where stars sparkle brighter without the light pollution emitted by shopping centers down the road.

Musical offerings will include a campground concert featuring Applebutter Express, from Tampa, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday. The group has appeared at festivals such as Bonaroo and Suwanee Springfest. Their song Hey My Brotha was featured in the movie The Good Lie. After the performance, a drum circle will be led by Julius Mendoza.

State Rep. Amanda Murphy will be on hand Sunday to speak about energy policy. Closing out the event will be a panel discussion moderated by Ann Scott, associate director of the New Port Richey Public Library, featuring input from certified permaculture designer "Jungle Jay" Hardman; Nathaniel Whitmore of the Delaware Highlands Mushroom Society; Andy Firk of Bamboo Grove Farm; Mycol Stevens, founder of the Florida Earthskills Gathering, and New Port Richey's own urban garden guru, Jim Kovalseki.

Contact Michele Miller at mmiller@tampabay.com. Follow @MicheleMiller52.

>>if you go

EcoFest

Pasco EcoFest will take place from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park, 10500 Wilderness Way, New Port Richey. Admission is free. Parking is $2. For information, including a complete schedule of events or to reserve a campsite (a $100 donation includes a campsite, four EcoFest totes, free parking and firewood), go to PascoEcoFest.com

Fifth annual Ecofest offers an opportunity to commune with nature in a single location 11/19/15 [Last modified: Sunday, November 22, 2015 11:57am]
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