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COME SEE HEAR REMEMBER // Our Heritage

In some ways, the lure of Florida's west coast hasn't changed much over the years _ there's its beauty, adventure and the promise of a fresh start.

Gone, of course, are the Indian villages, many of the citrus groves, the unchecked mosquito population and the back-breaking work of carving a life out of raw land.

Heritage Village, formerly Heritage Park, wants its visitors to honor the connection between past and present, to remember what once lay beneath roadways, malls and landscaped developments.

"Pinellas County is a very urban and fast-growing area, and we stand to lose a lot if we don't remember our heritage," said Ellen Babb, curator of education for the 21-acre open-air museum, a compound of 22 historical buildings and a museum surrounded by mature trees and pathways.

Next weekend the park, renamed last year to better convey its image, will showcase its old collections and a new program at the Pinellas Folk Festival.

It will be the third year the festival is produced by the Pinellas County Historical Society, Heritage Village's private, fund-raising auxiliary. The park itself is operated by Pinellas County government.

As many as 2,500 people are expected to hear live performances by local folk musicians and storytellers. Each brings a unique voice from the county's multicultural settlers: African storytelling, African-American spirituals and gospel tunes, Greek bagpipe music, traditional American Indian tales and music from Appalachian and southern regions.

"It's a nice, relaxing family atmosphere where you can sit under the trees and listen to first-rate folk music and storytelling,"said Ken Ford, Heritage Village's executive director.

The event also will give the park's managers a chance to show off the new Daniel McMullen Home for the Fiber Arts. Since April 1995, members of five local fiber art guilds _ weavers and spinners, rug-hookers, quilters, embroiderers and basket-weavers _ have put on daily demonstrations in the 1868 house. They show park visitors the crafts that were taken for granted by Florida pioneers. Each guild gives demonstrations on different days of the week in different rooms of the house.

"We had different groups demonstrating on different occasions over the years. They used our meeting room a lot," Ford said. "We decided it would be better if it was all centrally located. People are very enthusiastic about it."

The Folk Festival is among the newest events at Heritage Village. The park's largest happening, Country Jubilee, has been going on for 16 years and draws 15,000 people on the fourth Saturday in October. The park's other major draws are Picnic in the Park, an antique car show in April; the Sheep to Shawl wool-making demonstration in March and a Civil War re-enactment each July.

For park managers, even ordinary days can be special.

"It's so heartening when young kids come here with school tours _ then come back with their parents on weekend. They ask their parents to take them," said Babb, the curator. "When kids have that kind of enthusiasm, there's hope for the future."

IF YOU GO:

Pinellas Folk Festival will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 27 at Heritage Village, 11909 125th St. N (off Ulmerton Road just east of Walsingham Road). It's free. Call 582-2123.

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