Do festivals preserve rural character?


Published: Monday, October 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

They will square dance to country and bluegrass music. They will do the limbo and the hokeypokey. They will gather around High Springs' signature sinkhole near City Hall and buy jewelry and crafts made by local merchants.

And by attending the annual High Springs Fall Festival Oct. 13, festival-goers will help High Springs hang onto something many small communities feel is becoming endangered amid booming residential growth: its rural character.

"The Fall Festival and our Pioneer Days festival in the spring really help us raise awareness of what our town was in the past and is now," said Heather Clarich, president of the High Springs Chamber of Commerce. "If you don't stamp out what makes your town unique and make it your own and really celebrate it and remind people of it, we'll all turn into Main Street, USA, where you see the same stores on every corner, and everything starts to look cookie-cutter."

It's an idea that's caught on in small cities throughout Florida, said Doris Tillman, Main Street manager for Fort Pierce, which has used festivals as a tool to help spotlight the growing city's rural past.

"These festivals help small cities keep that down-home flavor as they grow and change," said Tillman, who provides advice to cities looking to revamp their historic downtown business districts as part of the Florida Main Street organization.

In Fort Pierce, the city revived its historic Sandy Shoes Festival. In nearby Okeechobee, Tillman said, the Day of the Cowboy features a cattle drive down a state highway and a rodeo to honor its history as a cattle-ranching town.

In High Springs, which has seen a 14 percent population increase from 2000 to 2005, Clarich said festival organizers have used both the Fall Festival and the annual Pioneer Days event as a chance to highlight various aspects of the city's heritage.

Last year, the festivals celebrated the city's historic Main Street.

This year, they will focus on the city's namesake springs and rivers.

Festival organizers have also made a conscious effort to keep the events low-key, Clarich said.

"Our target these last couple of years has been trying to bring the festivals back to being more traditional and homey, and giving residents and visitors an idea of what we feel our town was and what we'd like to maintain about it," Clarich said.

Other local examples abound.

In Alachua and Micanopy, "harvest" festivals honor the communities' agricultural roots.

On Oct. 13, Hawthorne residents will wolf down barbecue at the city's annual Hog Fest, and will also get to sample local farmers' goods at the city's new farmer's market, which debuts the same day.

Though a new Alachua County ordinance prohibits the festival from offering its signature greased-pig chase, festival organizer Heather Surrency said the event will still highlight Hawthorne's rural past with a barbecue cookoff and a hog-calling contest.

"In marketing the event, we've tried to make a niche for Hawthorne, so we can be remembered as being unique from any other city," Surrency said. "We want it to spotlight what Hawthorne is known for, which is the sense of community, and our agriculture."

Candice David, a member of the Hawthorne Community Foundation, said in Hawthorne, where conceptual plans call for more than 2,100 new homes to be built in several subdivisions in the city within the next several years, that goal is especially important.

"We could very easily become a bedroom community," David said. "Many small towns are left with this feeling of, What is our identity?' when they realize that they don't have the things that used to bring people together. What festivals and farmer's markets do beyond highlighting certain local produce is providing a sense of community by offering a venue for people to gather."Central Florida Peanut Festival

What: Music, horse shoe tournament, antique cars and more than 90 vendor booths, including an assortment of peanuts and peanut products.

When: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 6

Where: Linear Park on Main Street in Williston

Info: 528-5552

Hawthorne Hog Fest

What: Food, music, games and barbecue cook-off.

When: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 13

Where: Hawthorne Sports Complex on State Road 20

Info: 317-3995

The Melrose Pumpkin Festival

What: Events include a pumpkin pie bake off, pumpkin carving contest, pumpkin chili cook-off, a pageant and dog show costume contest.

When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 13

Where: Heritage Park on State Road 26 in Melrose

Info: www.melrosepumpkinfest.com

High Springs Fall Festival

What: Crafts, art, live entertainment and music.

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 13

Where: Near the sinkhole in High Springs

Info: (386) 454-3120, www.highsprings.com

Alachua's Harvest Moon Festival

What: Music from area bands, dancers, vendors.

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 14

Where: Main Street in downtown Alachua

Info: www.alachuabusiness.com

19th Annual Suwannee River Quilt Show and Sale

What: More than 200 quilts will be on exhibit. Workshops, demonstrations, lectures, antique quilts and door prizes will also be featured.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 19 and Oct. 20, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 21.

Where: Stephen Foster State Park, White Springs

Info: (386) 397-7005, www.FloridaStateParks.org/stephenfoster

34th Annual McIntosh 1890s Festival

What: Residents dress in 1890s clothing to enjoy art, antique vendors, craft demonstrations, entertainment, food and more.

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 20

Where: McIntosh, located along U.S. 441 between Gainesville and Ocala

Info: 591-4038, www.friendsofmcintosh.org

The 33rd Annual Micanopy Fall Harvest Festival

What: Arts and crafts from regional vendors and artists, live music.

When: Nov. 3-4

Where: Cholokka Boulevard in Micanopy

Info: www.afn.org/~micafest/index.html

Amy Reinink can be reached at 352-374-5088 or reinina@gvillesun.com.

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