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Florida Ranch Days will celebrate the beauty of Little Everglades Ranch

DADE CITY — Little Everglades Ranch will fling open its gates this weekend, and everyone is invited to come and check out the place.

Florida Ranch Days, a celebratory open house of sorts, will be Saturday and Sunday at the 2,050-acre working ranch. The event will feature more than 20 bands, educational snake and birds of prey shows, a high-wire act, tours, a swamp buggy obstacle course ride, crafts, kids activities and plenty of food and drink.

And while it will cost $10 to park, admission is free.

Florida Ranch Days is the first in what is hoped to be an annual event, said in-house marketer Kevin Campbell, who is producing the event with his wife, Andie.

"It's a celebration of this big, beautiful ranch that we work at," Campbell said. "We feel like this is an event that people from 3 to 100 (years old) can come out and enjoy themselves."

Little Everglades Ranch, just north of Dade City, is owned by Bob and Sharon Blanchard and her son, Bart Rice. Thoroughbred horses, Hanoverian performance horses and Belted Galloway cattle are bred on the ranch, which is also part nature preserve. Hay is grown and baled for cattle and horse feed, and there's also an agricultural peat mining operation on site.

In addition, the ranch plays host to a variety of equine and sporting events.

Some might recall the nine-year run of the annual steeplechase, which drew some 15,000 spectators each year to what was locally coined "the Kentucky Derby of Florida."

A sinking economy and loss of sponsorship shut that down in 2009.

Since then, the equine course occasionally has been transformed into an extreme race course for Rugged Maniac and Tough Mudder events, as well as the Great Bull Run in 2014, reminiscent of the run in Pamplona, Spain. The ranch also has played host to the Florida High School Athletic Association cross-country state championships and the regional collegiate cross-country finals.

For Florida Ranch Days, the Campbells have whipped up an Americana-laden music lineup featuring bluegrass, jazz and old-time music. Among those performing will be "newgrass" band Grampa's Cough Medicine, "unique Americana" band Hymn for Her and Mean Mary (Mary James), who was recently named winner of the 2017 Will McLean Best New Florida Song Contest.

Other entertainment will include twice-daily high-wire performances by Tino Wallenda and educational snake and birds of prey shows with Jim Mendenhall of Rattlesnake Festival fame and Lady Kitty, respectively. Chainsaw sculptor Brian Ruth will be carving creations on the spot. There also will be a kids area with craft activities, face painting, a petting zoo and a Junior Savage Race, an obstacle course event for the adventurous.

While most activities are free, walking, riding and tethered balloon aerial tours are available for $5 to $10.

"The ranch is an amazingly beautiful property, and it's worth it just to come out and see it," Campbell said, adding that attendees should be prepared to hike and bring a lawn chair. "The property is groomed like a park. A real nice park."

Food and drink offerings will include a beer garden and an ethnic culinary assortment — barbecue, Mexican, Cajun and Cuban, as well as hotdogs and hamburgers.

Of special note is the hot-air balloon glow planned for dusk on Saturday evening, weather permitting.

"We'll have the owners of four or five balloons here firing up their balloons with their propane tanks," Campbell said. "It will look like big flashbulbs going off, one after another. It's really something to see."

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

.If you go

Florida Ranch Days

Florida Ranch Days will be 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 11) and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 12) at Little Everglades Ranch, 17951 Hamilton Road, Dade City. Admission is free; parking is $10. Tours: $5 to $10 for walking, swamp buggy and amphibious vehicle tours or tethered hot balloon tours. For information and an entertainment schedule, go to RanchDays.com. Call (352) 521-3661.

Florida Ranch Days will celebrate the beauty of Little Everglades Ranch 02/08/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 8, 2017 4:42pm]
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