It all started 29 years ago, when a small group of Weeki Wachee residents gathered together to raise funds for the main three weeki wachee community non-profit organizations (Weeki Wachee Crime Watch, Weeki Wachee Area Club, & Hernando Environmental Land Protectors). Now the Weeki Wachee Swamp Festival, or the Swamp Fest, is a major, must-attend community event that drew 5,000 visitors last year! This year’s Swamp Fest will be celebrated on March 3-5, from 9 am to 5 pm Friday and Saturday and from 9 am to 4 pm on Sunday, at Linda Pedersen Park, 6400 Shoal Line Blvd., Spring Hill.
“We’ve been hosting the Swamp Fest for 30 years,” said Karen Lenhard, information officer for the Swamp Fest. “It’s the community coming together at a not-for-profit event to benefit groups that help others. Everything is for the community.”
This year’s Swamp Fest promises to be bigger and better than ever. “We’ll have more than 125 vendors, including fine arts and crafts. We encourage the sale of only handmade items,” explained Lenhard. “We’ll have baked goods and homemade honey and jelly sales, more food trucks than ever, featuring vendors such as the Mo’ROCK’in Mediterranean Grill, Spice Corner, Cali Street Tacos, Taste of Jersey Shore hot dogs and crab cakes, HORHAY’s Macaroni and Cheese, Potzee’s Italian Food Trunk, Aaron and Milena’s sausage philly steaks, funnel cake, and more, Grumpy’s Homemade Ice Cream, Kona Ice, Melonheads, Tiki Treats popcorn, etc. We’ll have raffle prizes every day, live entertainment, and more.”
“This year, we’ll be bringing back our original T-shirt design from the first year of Swamp Fest,” she added. “New this year will be the Robin’s Nest, a nursing, changing, and feeding station for families.”
“We’ll have fine artists, woodworkers, metal workers, jewelers, from this area and across the state,” said Swamp Fest President Kathy Edwards. “The Bearded Brotherhood of Blacksmiths with FABA (Florida Artist Blacksmith Association) will offer their wares and have a competition. Live entertainment will include Fred George, Klassic Kountry Kloggers, Eddie McConnell, Ray Nichols, Downside Up, Just Us Band, Weeki Wachee Wind Warriors, Kate and Dave, Machine Gun Kellys, and Cody’s Camp Revival CCR Tribute.”
And, of course, guests will enjoy those special events that are particular to the Swamp Fest. The Swamp Monster contest, a yearly competition where contestants of all ages come dressed as their version of a swamp monster, will take place at the Family Chiropractic Stage at 10:30 am on Saturday. Prizes will be awarded, and contestants are encouraged to remain in costume and circulate throughout the festival as much as possible. “We encourage people of all ages to show up, dress up and get swampy,” said Lenhard.
Also, at this year’s Swamp Fest, the event founders will be honored at a Sunday ceremony. “We’ll be honoring the amazing Doras Boutwell, a 100-year-old community volunteer who played such a big role in the history of Swamp Fest,” said Lenhard.
In 1994, Swamp Fest hosted its first annual festival in the parking lot at the Weeki Wachee Area Club, soon moving around the corner to the Weeki Wachee Christian Camp. The festival relocated to Linda Pedersen Park, then in 2013, made the big move to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. In 2018 the fest “made the trek back to the swamp, and 2023 will be held, once again, at Linda Pedersen Park!”
It is now and will always be for a good cause. “The event will benefit its three presenters,” said Edwards. “Weeki Wachee Area Crime Watch, HELP (Hernando Environmental Land Protectors), and the Weeki Wachee Area Club.” Other organizations that the event has benefitted, says Lenhard, include Jericho Road Ministries, K9 Partners for Patriots, People Helping People, the Boy Scouts, and the US Marines charities. Additional beneficiaries, past and present, include American Cancer Society Relay for Life, ARC Nature Coast, wildlife rehab organizations, Boy Scout Troop 8681, Chariots of Life specially built wheelchairs, Civil Air Patrol, Hernando Beach VFW, Kiwanis Marine Laboratory, St. Jude, and more.
“The groups that we help through Swamp Fest help others,” said Edwards. “It’s all about giving back to the community.”
To learn more about Swamp Fest 2023, visit https://swampfestweekiwachee.com/. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for kids ages 6-12, kids five and under are free.