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Floridians seek roots in Homosassa history

Florida Gathering participants kicked off their weekend Friday night with something any Floridian can appreciate: poking fun at Northerners.

"If you're from somewhere else and you'd like to move down here," Florida folk singer Don Grooms sang, "come but don't stay long, if you please."

The all-weekend Florida Gathering is, after all, about finding common ground among Floridians. Grooms helped welcome about 200 people from throughout the state to Homosassa for the weekend.

The event, sponsored by the Florida Humanities Council, is designed to help Floridians _ natives and transfers alike _ appreciate more of what the state has to offer.

The Florida Humanities Council's mission is to educate Floridians about their home state. The visitors will be in town until Sunday, attending workshops, visiting local sites of interest and exploring Citrus County.

So many state residents are from elsewhere, the council reasons, that many adults know little about Florida history. That makes pride in local culture hard to cultivate, said Susan Lockwood, assistant director of the Florida Humanities Council.

Lockwood said the council chose to stage its Florida Gathering in Homosassa because the area has a unique culture and history.

On Saturday morning, Florida Gathering participants chose among kayaking, biking along the Withlacoochee Bike Trail, singing folk songs, making crafts and touring the Crystal River Indian Mounds, the Yulee Sugar Mill and the Homosassa River. Another workshop focused on the film Follow That Dream, which drew Elvis Presley to Citrus County.

Saturday afternoon included workshops on Florida tourism, the destruction of nearby Rosewood, an architectural tour of Citrus County and a discussion of May Mann Jennings, an early Florida suffragist.

Gary Ellis, the director of the Gulf Archaeology Research Institute who led a morning workshop, said that lack of local pride affects residents' interest in preserving Florida's past.

"Our sense of shared heritage is probably one of the worst in the world," Ellis said.

Leading the historical tour of the Homosassa River, Ellis said many, if not most, of the area's archaeological sites remain unexplored.

"Our culture is in great jeopardy," Ellis said, "and the sad thing is, the most wonderful we might lose before we know them."