WEEKI WACHEE — March in Florida is known for warm, sunny weather and spring break. In western Hernando County, it's also known for monsters — the "swampy" kind.
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The swamp creatures, sometimes covered in Spanish moss or palmetto fronds, will be mingling among the crowds this weekend during the annual Weeki Wachee Swamp Fest at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. The three-day event, now in its 24th year, will feature more than 100 arts and crafts vendors, musical entertainment, food vendors, a raffle featuring more than 200 prize drawings, and, of course, the popular Swamp Monster contest.
"The costumes are phenomenal," said Karen Lenhard, Swamp Fest president. "It's hard to pick the best. The (contestants) really make great costumes."
Along with the contest, festival favorites including unique "swamp" treats such as alligator bites, crab cakes and jambalaya. Also, vendors will sell a variety of gifts, including handmade baskets, jewelry, jams and jellies, crafts, wreaths, soaps, pottery and paintings.
"We are mindful not to have vendors overlap, where they might sell the same things," Lenhard said.
Most vendors have donated gifts for the prize booth. Visitors can purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win a variety of items. The grand prize will be a stainless steel gas grill.
"Everything we make goes back into the community," said Lenhard. Beneficiaries include the Weeki Wachee Area Club, the Hernando Environmental Land Protectors and the Weeki Wachee Crime Watch.
While the festival's popularity will quickly fill the parking lot at Weeki Wachee Springs, remote parking will be offered at Believers Christian Fellowship, where complimentary shuttle service will be provided. Those who park at Believers on Saturday, the most popular day, will be able to purchase their festival tickets at that location so they can skip the lines at the springs.
"We did that last year," Lenhard said, "and it worked out great."
The event also includes all the amenities offered at Weeki Wachee Springs, including the river cruises and mermaid shows, gift shops and concessions.
"We amped up the live mermaid shows," said John Athanason, marketing coordinator at Weeki Wachee Springs. "Along with the three current mermaid shows, each day we will also have two shows with the Legendary Sirens." The Sirens are former mermaids who have performed at the park over the years.
The Swamp Fest moved to its current location five years ago. It has been a partnership that has worked well, both for the event and the park, with attendance each year topping 7,000.
"We always get positive feedback," Athanason said. "What's great is that you get two events for one price."
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