Flooding cancels Red Belly Day's main event

Jefferson Dumas, 7, and Tyler Wynans horse around Saturday while aboard the Matthew Express at the 10th annual Red Belly Days festival. The Matthew Express is a handmade train that is part of a fund-raising foundation that helps fund scholarships and assists children in and around Cross City.

DAVID MASSEY/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, May 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 30, 2005 at 10:54 p.m.
FANNING SPRINGS - Mother Nature apparently wasn't quite ready to see any red bellies on Saturday.
The belly flop contest, a much anticipated feature at Red Belly Day, had to be canceled. The popular melon chunkin' contest - to determine who can throw a watermelon the farthest - was also called off while the rest of the festival went on as planned a month earlier than the usual Memorial Day festival at Fanning Springs State Park.
"We moved this date up to avoid conflicts with other events and when it started getting close, we realized there was a chance we would still have the flooding to deal with and that is exactly what happened," said Gary Poore, a Dixie County Chamber of Commerce director who helped organize the 10th annual Red Belly Day.
The flooded Suwannee River prevented water bubbling up from Fanning Spring to leave the spring head or spring run. The result was that the spring was flooded with murky water. Belly floppers would have risked colliding with each other or with structures not intended to be underwater, like a portion of the boardwalk.
"We waited until the last minute to make the decision, but it just would not have been safe," assistant park manage Steve Davenport said.
Despite the featured event being canceled, Tom and Misty Burnett of Dixie County said their three daughters, ages 5, 8 and 10, had a great day at the festival.
"All they wanted to do was to ride the (kiddie) train and that's OK with us," said Tom Burnett. "This has been a pretty good deal for a full day - something affordable."
"Belly flopping is not something we had planned for them to do anyway," said Misty Burnett.
In addition to changing the date of the one-day event, organizers lowered ticket prices this year when they decided not to book a Nashville recording artist as a headliner. Instead, popular local and regional groups were booked and adult entry tickets were cut from the $15 price in 2004 to $8 this year.
Late in the afternoon, chamber Director Julie Squires said the attendees who talked to her had all been pleased with the event and were understanding about the last minute changes. With more than 2,000 people attending on Saturday for the 2005 festival, Squires said the chamber is already thinking ahead to 2006.
"There will be an event somewhere," Squires said. "Where and when I can't say right now, but there will be an event."
Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or voylesk@gvillesun.com.

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