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FEST HAS SO MUCH TRADITION, IT'S SCARY

After 19 years, the Hernando County Parks and Recreation Department's annual Halloween Harvest Festival has developed some treasured traditions.

There's always a hayride, kids' games and rides, a Halloween costume contest for kids and even a masquerade contest for pets. But if you ask county recreation manager Harry Johnson what the real attraction of the festival is, he will tell you it's the haunted house.

"I'm told it's pretty interesting," Johnson said. "At least that's what I hear from the kids. They seem to have a ball with it."

For the longtime organizer of such county-sponsored events as the Father-Daughter Dance, the Easter egg hunt, the Mutt Strut and Soggie Doggie Day, the Halloween Harvest Festival, which takes place this weekend, is one of Johnson's favorites because it serves such a diverse group of youngsters.

"I think the fact that we try to keep things as inexpensive as possible opens it up to a lot more people," Johnson said. "With the way the economy is these days, there aren't many things that families on a limited budget can do together."

Indeed, Johnson said event organizers, which also include the Spring Hill Rotary and Brooksville Kiwanis clubs, take a special interest in keeping the festival affordable for families. There is no admission charge, and many games, activities and food items cost $1 or less.

The two-day event relies on a small army of volunteers, mostly from the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs and from the county parks, Johnson said. Proceeds are split among the entities, with the Parks and Recreation Department's share going to support children's sports and recreation programs. For the past two years, Rotary's share has gone toward completing a dog park facility at Centennial Park in Spring Hill.

The Hernando County Parks and Recreation Department's Halloween Harvest Festival runs 6 to 9 p.m. today and 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the Hernando County Fairgrounds, S Broad Street (U.S. 41), Brooksville. Registration for the pet masquerade and costume contests begin at 6:30 p.m. Contests start at 7 p.m. Admission to the event is free. Game tickets are four for $1. Haunted house admission is $3. The cost of the hayride is $2. For information, call (352) 754-4031.

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