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Manatee Festival keeps on growing

Visitors are expected to show up in record numbers this weekend as the Florida Manatee Festival marks its eighth run.

The festival _ which, in addition to luring visitors, is designed to educate people about manatees _ drew 25,000 spectators last year. This year, organizers expect 30,000 people, said Sheree Monroe, executive director of the Crystal River Chamber of Commerce.

Like most festivals, this one started out slowly at first. "The first few years started out small," Monroe said. "Then, in 1990, we really started to take off. We changed the time of year from November to February because we wanted to coordinate the festival when there weren't any other art shows in the area."

And the festival continues to grow. This year it's getting a higher profile with sponsorship by the Florida Lottery. It also will feature a bigger art show and seafood festival and more children's events.

The original objective of the Manatee Festival was to raise money. "Originally, it was organized as a fund-raiser for the Chamber and to bring new people into the area," Monroe said.

Now the Chamber is also interested in educating the public about manatees. "It has created a lot of awareness," Monroe said. "When people come into the festival, we provide them with information on the manatee."

The $750 raised during last year's festival will be presented to Jesse White's Florida Manatee Research and Education Foundation at a Chamber-only gala.

Monroe credits the Manatee Festival Committee with much of the festival's success. "It says a lot about a community when they devote so much time to it," she said. "It's very heartwarming. We pull together for a common goal."

Helping fulfill those goals is committee chairman Ron Kitchen, who puts in 30 to 40 hours a week on the committee. He is the president of Barbaron Inc., a golf course construction company in Crystal River.

This year is his second on the committee, and his first as its chairman. "The community is very involved," Kitchen said. "We've been working on this for the whole year."

Because pulling together the festival is such a big task, the number of people on the committee has expanded. "Last year, we had six or seven on the committee; this year, we have 16 members," Kitchen said.

The ultimate goal of the festival, Monroe said, is "to promote our community and the business in our area. And we are proud that we've been able to bring attention to the plight of the manatee."

Helping festivalgoers learn more about manatees will be Dr. Jesse White, a Dunnellon veterinarian and nationally recognized expert on manatees. (For a profile of Jesse White, see Page 18.) He will offer brochures, ongoing educational videos and a manatee model.

As in past years, White will be assisted by the marine biology class from Crystal River High School. He will be available to answer questions after each viewing of the video and to present lectures throughout the day.

The festival is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Parking is $2 but festival admittance is free.

Events include a fine arts festival, a seafood festival, children's games, a volleyball tournament and daily entertainment.

Entertainment under the main festival tent includes acts such as the Crystal River High School Band, folk and blues music by Bill Osborn and country music by Shirley Frazier.

On Saturday, festivalgoers can twist the night away at the Sweetheart Sock Hop from 9:30 to 1 a.m. at the Crystal River Mall, 1801 U.S. 19 NW.

Tickets are $5 per person in advance and $8 at the door. The dance will feature music by The Edsels and Doug Arthur.

FESTIVAL ENTERTAINMENT

Saturday

11:45 a.m.: Kim's Klowns Puppet Show.

Noon: Jesse White, festival greeting

12:15 p.m.: Crystal River High School Band

1 p.m.: Magic by Al Coury

1:15 p.m.: Bill Osborn (folk and blues music)

2:15 p.m.: Main Street (Dixieland, big band music)

3 p.m.: Christy Lynn (Singer)

3:15 p.m.: Azure Sierra ('90s rock)

Sunday

12:50 p.m.: Jesse White, festival greeting

1 p.m.: Shirley Frazier (country music and original songs)

2 p.m.: Douglas Arthur ('50s to '90s music)

3:10 p.m.: Citrus Jazz

4 p.m.: County Community Band

5 p.m.: Classy Affair (singer and keyboard music).

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