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Michele Miller, Times Staff Writer

Michele Miller is a Tampa Bay Times writer in Pasco County. Miller coordinates and provides stories and photographs for Pasco entertainment features as well as the Top of the Class education feature.

Phone: (727) 869-6251

Email: miller@tampabay.com

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  1. If it's spring, it must be Chasco Fiesta time

    Events

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Elsewhere, the start of spring might conjure up visions of tulips and cherry blossoms. In these parts, the return of Chasco Fiesta is a sure sign that things are about to heat up.

    The annual event kicks off Friday, March 24, in downtown New Port Richey for a nine-day run, which will feature carnival rides and barbecue fare, boat and street parades, a varied lineup of daily music at Sims Park and the traditional Native American festival on the banks of the Pithlachascotee River....

    The Chasco Fiesta includes the longest-running boat parade in Florida.
  2. Coast lures environmental dawgs for outdoor learning

    Human Interest

    PORT RICHEY

    It's Saturday morning and the Gulf of Mexico calls. It's close to 11 a.m. when youngsters dribble into the Gill Dawg Marina to slather on sunscreen and load up on water in preparation for an outdoor adventure.

    The itinerary is simple: Food, fun and fundamentals of environmental education at Eco Dawgs, a fledgling adventure program for youths at Gill Dawg Marina.

    On this day, there is time to down a cheeseburger and french fries while taking in a 30-minute educational presentation by program director Dominique O'Connor. It's a preliminary lesson that touches on the water cycle, the important functions of the coastal wetlands, its inhabitants, and how to preserve both....

    Isaac Tavo, 13, front, Isaiah Tavo, 12, middle, and Alex Hochreiter, 13, get a feel for their kayaks before heading out on the Pithlachascotee River with the Eco Dawgs environmental program.
  3. Annual Will McLean tribute set for this weekend at Sertoma Youth Ranch

    Music & Concerts

    SPRING LAKE — Festival season is in full gear. And, as tradition would have it, the Will McLean Music Festival will offer a musical salute to the "Father of Florida Folk" with festivities kicking off on Friday in the wooded setting of the Sertoma Youth Ranch.

    McLean, who grew up in the Panhandle, would be right at home singing his heart out in those woods. He started out playing a gourd and cornstalk fiddle made by his grandfather and spent the better part of his life traversing the state, taking up a mission to preserve the land and waterways he loved through his music. By the time cancer took him in early 1990, McLean had written some 3,700 songs, stories and poems. ...

    “Mean Mary” James plays banjo, fiddle guitar and eight other instruments.
  4. With new leadership, Rattlesnake Festival will live on

    Events

    SAN ANTONIO — Just weeks after the announcement that a 50-year-old local tradition had come to an end, there's been a revival.

    Come the second weekend of October, the San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival will go on as usual, this time under the direction of a local nonprofit organization, the Thomas Promise Foundation.

    "A lot of people in town are happy it is going to continue after 50 years," San Antonio Rotary Club member and former festival organizer Betty Burke said....

    The Thomas Promise Foundation will take over the annual San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival from the San Antonio Rotary Club.
  5. Dade City's historic Cox Elementary School celebrates 90th anniversary

    K12

    DADE CITY

    If walls could talk, the two-story, red-brick building on Martin Luther King Boulevard would have a lot to say.

    There are 90 years of storied history stashed inside the structure, which opened as Dade City Grammar School after winter break on Jan. 3, 1927, and which now is known as Rodney B. Cox Elementary School.

    It's a time capsule of sorts, traversing through 11 administrators, numerous teachers and thousands of students. Fathers and mothers have gone to school here. Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, too. ...

    Rodney B. Cox Elementary School first opened as Dade City Grammar School on Jan. 3, 1927.
  6. For Most Outstanding Senior Max Keenan, helping others is a priority

    K12

    LAND O'LAKES — At 6-foot-2, Max Keenan cuts a tall figure as he walks the campus, save when he pauses mid-conversation to snatch a discarded cellophane wrapper blowing across his path.

    It's a small gesture — but one that speaks volumes about Keenan's character.

    And that's something that carries weight with the students and faculty who voted Keenan as the 2016-2017 Outstanding Senior at Land O'Lakes High last fall, and with the panel of final judges that gave him the title of Most Outstanding Senior for the entire county....

    “People who have been given so many blessings — it’s sort of their job to take care of others.” Max Keenan, the 2016-2017 Outstanding Senior for Pasco County schools
  7. Improvements promised for second SunWest Park Crab and Shrimp Festival

    Events

    HUDSON — If crabs are your thing, you're in luck this weekend.

    The SunWest Park Crab and Shrimp Festival kicks off Saturday with two days of live music, carnival rides, craft vendors, seafood and culinary offerings at the spring-fed water park in northwest Pasco County.

    Add to that the thrill of watching hermit crabs toting their painted shells to the finish line.

    A little bit of new and much improved is the motto for the second annual event, which admittedly got off to a rocky start in 2016....

    Racing hermit crabs will be among the featured activities at the second annual SunWest Park Crab and Shrimp Festival, which takes place Saturday and Sunday at SunWest Park in Hudson.
  8. Pasco County Fair will add some new twists to traditions

    Events

    DADE CITY — A celebrity milk-off and the Axe Women Loggers of Maine. Racing pigs and a Barnyard Revue. Whirling midway rides and the wafting aromas of fried dough, corn dogs and freshly baled hay.

    The 70th annual Pasco County Fair kicks off Monday for a seven-day run, and organizers have been switching things up with hopes to entice visitors.

    "It's been 70 years of homespun fun. We're trying to make it exciting and new for everyone," said fair general manager Clark Converse. ...

    The Pasco County Fair runs Monday through Feb. 26 and offers something for everyone with new acts and all-time favorites.
  9. After 50 years, San Antonio's Rattlesnake Festival is finished

    Events

    SAN ANTONIO— It was a good, long run — 50 years. But times change. People move on. Traditions fall by the wayside.

    So it goes with San Antonio's annual Rattlesnake Festival and Run.

    Last week, the Rotary Club of San Antonio announced it had decided to discontinue the festival, a mainstay since 1967. That's when Jaycee Club members Gerald McLeod and Willie Post came up with the idea of rounding up rattlesnakes and gopher tortoises as a way to entertain, educate and raise a little money for local causes....

    Gopher turtles race during the 1979 San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival and Run.
  10. Florida Ranch Days will celebrate the beauty of Little Everglades Ranch

    Events

    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....

    Little Everglades Ranch opens the gates this weekend for Florida Ranch Days, a two-day event that will feature live music, swamp buggy and tethered balloon tours, birds of prey and snake shows, and family-friendly fun.
  11. For state School Nurse of the Year, advocacy for kids never stops

    K12

    DADE CITY

    Tuesday is clinic day at Pasco High School, and that means Margaret Polk is likely to be interrupted.

    She is more than happy to chat about her job and the news that the Florida Association of School Nurses recently named her Florida's 2017 School Nurse of the Year.

    But the kids come first.

    "We might have to stop because students will be coming in for their sports physicals," Polk warns....

    Margaret Polk takes and records vital signs as part of a sports physical for Pasco High’s Samaria Gant, 15. Polk has earned a reputation for going the extra mile to tend to her students.
  12. In encore career, veteran finds fulfillment in helping others get back on their feet

    Veterans

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Veterans Day likely will be the same as most other workdays for Darrell Barnes. That's okay with him. He loves his job.

    Barnes, 49, is a veterans employment consultant for the Boley Centers' Veterans Integration Assistance Program. He's part of a core group, working out of an office tucked in a strip mall at Trouble Creek Road and Grand Boulevard, along with veterans — Paul Kendrick (Marines) and Lee Browder (Air Force)....

    Darrell Barnes of the Veterans Integration Assistance Program at the Boley Centers shakes hands with to Alex Holmquist, an inmate at the Land O' Lakes detention Center during one of Barnes' weekly visits to the jail to speak with inmates who are veterans. A retired Air Force master sergeant, Barnes visits the jail to consult with inmates about work opportunities after they are released.
  13. John Schneider, partner bring CineFlix Film Festival to Wesley Chapel

    Movies

    WESLEY CHAPEL — John Schneider is a man of many roles. Some might know him as Bo Duke on the television series The Dukes of Hazzard, Superman's adoptive dad on Smallville or currently as Jim Cryer on Tyler Perry's The Haves and the Have Nots. He's also a country singer and songwriter and touts a long-held passion for independent filmmaking.

    Now Schneider is promoting the works of other indie filmmakers through a traveling film festival....

    John Schneider is bringing indie films to places “people might not typically see them.”
  14. Screenings give students in health academies hands-on experience

    K12

    HOLIDAY — For students working their way toward a career, hands-on experiences can be every bit as important as opening a textbook or taking a test. So when it comes time for school health screenings, students enrolled in academies of health at local high schools get some exposure to the real world while helping to accomplish what can be a daunting task.

    As sixth-graders poured into Paul R. Smith Middle School's media center on Oct. 11, Health Academy students from Anclote High stood at assigned posts, dressed in navy blue scrubs. Their task: to record each student's height and weight, conduct initial vision screenings and help with hearing screenings alongside volunteers from the Sertoma Speech and Hearing Foundation....

    Anclote High student Dechardonae Gaines, right, measures Paul R. Smith student Tyler Watrous during a health screening.
  15. Music, fun, run on tap at 50th annual Rattlesnake Festival

    Events

    SAN ANTONIO — Up North, October heralds the start of cooler temperatures, changing leaves and apple-picking season.

    Here in Florida, it's time to celebrate venomous reptiles.

    As tradition would have it, the San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival & Run kicks off Saturday at City Park and continues Sunday. It's the 50th year for the festival, which takes an educational and altruistic approach to celebrating the much-feared snake. Last year, 5,000 to 6,000 people attended, according to festival chairwoman Betty Burke....

    iStockphoto