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Cooter Fest off to running start with bike ride, chow

The Great American Cooter Fest, the city's monthlong fall festival, kicks off this weekend with a road run, a bike ride and a barbecue.

City officials expect a crowd of about 200 for the road run _ called Cooters and Cops: Beat the Sheriff 5K Road Race _ to be held Saturday morning.

About 1,000 cyclists are expected to show for the annual Rails to Trails bike ride, held Sunday on the Withlacoochee State Trail. The barbecue, co-sponsored by the Inverness Black History Club and the city, is a new event this year, and city officials said they had no guess as to the attendance for the Sunday afternoon event.

Nevertheless, they're excited about the festival.

"The whole month will be "cooterrific,' " said Pati Smith, the city's parks and recreation director.

There's no opening ceremony for the festival. The Cooter Fest will be a series of events scheduled throughout the month, including events such as the road run that have been held for several years.

The festival will culminate with "Shell of a Good Time Blowout: The Great American Cooter Blast."

Held the last weekend of October, the celebration will include a carnival, food and entertainment, including Ben "Cooter" Jones and the General Lee, a car featured in the 1980s television show The Dukes of Hazzard. Cooterween, a family event held Oct. 31, will be the final event of Cooter Blast.

The third annual Festival of the Arts also will be wrapped into this year's Cooter Fest, taking the festival through the first week of November.

City officials and a public relations firm crafted an elaborate Web site, complete with banjo music and dancing turtles, for the festival. The site also contains an event schedule for the festival. The address is www.cooterfestival.com.

Cooter Fest T-shirts will be available for sale by the end of next week, Smith said. She said the city is expecting to make a lot of money from the T-shirt sales, in part because of the national attention the festival received when it was featured on Comedy Central's The Daily Show in September.

Since the show aired, the city has fielded nearly 50 requests a day from people across the country interested in purchasing shirts or attending the festival, she said.

T-shirts have not yet been ordered, Smith said, but the shirts will be available for sale at several Cooter Fest events. Smith also hopes to make T-shirts available for purchase online.

For information about the festival, call 726-3913.

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 860-7312 or e-mail vansicklesptimes.com.

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