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Spring festival: "You can't beat it'

After all the excitement afforded by the annual Spring in the Woods Festival this weekend, weary visitors reported desires to kick back, take things easy and adopt a duck.

"I'm sure I'll have to get one on my way out of here," said Port Richey resident Amy Redmon, who hefted her sleeping 6-year-old daughter, Julie, through the event's family living expo Saturday. "It's really not a bad deal for a duck."

The deal was a charity raffle for local YMCA chapters, and the ducks, of course, were rubber toys to be raced down the Weeki Wachee River.

But with rows of hay bales set out as seats in front of a performance gazebo, racks of barbecued ribs slowly grilling over a metal drum and an assortment of newly added livestock attractions, the eighth annual festival still boasted a down-home, country flavor.

"I like the pony rides the best. Mine was named Tucker," said Pine Grove Elementary School pupil Michael Peranio, who answered most questions with emphatic nods or shakes of his 6-year-old head.

The festivities were held amid the lush pine trees and pristine green lawns of Evergreen Woods Retirement Center in Spring Hill.

Center and event director Michael Andryusky expected 15,000 to 20,000 visitors at this year's festival, a figure that prompted him to add a horse-drawn carriage to transport people to and from their vehicles.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, several local restaurants offered samples at bargain prices; dozens of Florida artisans modeled their sculptures, woodcarvings, paintings and needlework; entertainers sang, danced, juggled and performed; and an array of Hernando County businesses described how their products and services can make everyday life a little easier.

"This is a great thing to do to get your business exposure," said Jim McLaughlin, a photographer who had set up a mini-gallery of his portrait work. "The response has been great, much more than I had been expecting."

McLaughlin, who operates his own studio, shared a tent with other small businesses, such as a pet grooming service, and corporations such as 3M, AAA and Humana Healthcare.

"It's a progression from the largest operations to the smallest, one-man shows," Andryusky said.

Patrons were offered a smorgasbord of cuisine from a food tent, conveniently near the entrance to the retirement center.

Brooksville residents Paul and Kathy Carufel settled onto a comfortable bench to sample food from the Oscar's Restaurant booth before perusing the festival's other attractions.

"Blackened food is usually too salty, but this is quite good," Paul Carufel said as he nibbled the chicken from atop a Caesar salad. "I took a chance and it paid off."

Others staked out a soft section of hay bale to enjoy some of the entertainment.

The Hernando High School Soloists and the Hernando Hill Hi-Lites performed; magician Dennis Margheim weaved his seemingly impossible illusion; and, in one of the more popular acts, the only member of Fritzy Bros. "One Man Circus" juggled a tennis ball, a coconut and a Tic-Tac breath mint.

"I thought he was going to eat it as a joke, but I'll be darned if he didn't juggle the thing," spectator Justin Pecot said.

Although some proprietors of crafts booths complained that the festival's new organization, separating artisans from other events, hindered business, the majority of the artists were happy to have been included.

"If I was doing this for money, I'd have done something else," said Donald MacDonald of Bird Man Crafts, which produces wooden birds and bumblebees whose grooved wings catch the breeze and make the animals appear to fly. "It's a hobby that we enjoy."

Sarah Russell, a member of the YMCA board of directors, summarized the event's purpose as she held out adoption papers for the yellow rubber ducks, which will be dumped into the river April 26.

"We're all here trying to help. This whole event is about the community," she said. "You can't beat it."