By JORGE SANCHEZ, Times Staff Writer
CRYSTAL RIVER -- Just as some people do, the manatee comes to Crystal River during wintry weather to spend the cold months in Florida's gentle climate.
With both the manatee and human populations reaching their zenith, the Crystal River Manatee Festival celebrates the winter migration this weekend.
On Saturday and Sunday, the Manatee Festival will take place on land and water. The downtown streets from Citrus Avenue to NW Second Avenue will be closed to accommodate the artists, food vendors and performers.
Parking in downtown can be a problem, so the best solution is to drive a little farther north on U.S. 19 to the Crystal River Mall. There, plenty of free parking is available and a free shuttle bus service will take you to the festival site. The ride takes about 10 minutes.
The festival this year features a larger gathering of artists and crafters than last year.
The St. Petersburg Times sponsors a fine arts show, which is juried and offers cash prizes and ribbons for winning artists. About 70 fine artists are scheduled to attend and can be found on Citrus Avenue.
More than 170 craft vendors will also be exhibiting their works at the festival.
The main emphasis will most likely be on wildlife art, but also expect to find many booths offering handmade jewelry, wood carvings and all types of paintings and sculpture.
The Manatee Festival food menu features offerings from about 30 vendors. Among these will be seafood platters from the Shrimp Shack and Crabbie's Crab Trap, along with barbecue, Philly cheesesteaks and other subs, Greek food, hamburgers, hot dogs and pita wraps. Other vendors will be selling pizza, espresso coffee, turkey legs, smoothies and kettle corn.
About 14,000 people attended the festival last year, and many of them also went on the boat tours of Kings Bay. Pontoon boats operated by local dive companies will take people on a 45-minute tour of the bay. The guides' local knowledge usually results in a manatee sighting.
Tickets for the boat ride will be sold at the Chamber of Commerce information booth at the festival. Tickets are $3 for adults and $1 for children, 12-18. Children younger than 12 may ride free.
The boats depart from Crystal River Manatee Dive and Tour at 267 NW Third St. A bus service will take people from the festival site to the boat dock. The buses will leave from the parking lot of the First Baptist Church.
Among other activities:
A rock climbing wall, a mechanical bull, pony rides and slot car racing will be on the corner of Citrus Avenue and U.S. 19.
Manatee education films and materials will be at the gazebo on Citrus Avenue, near the Chamber of Commerce information booth. Films, rehabilitated animals and other displays will be set up from eight government and wildlife agencies. The films will be shown in the gazebo.
The Manatee Festival Marketplace is a new feature, and will include booths from local businesses and nonprofit organizations.
There will be children's games at the Creative Playground adjacent to City Hall.
The "Sounds Like Buffett to Me" song contest always draws a big crowd of Parrotheads. It will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Free parking and shuttle bus service are available at Crystal River Mall on U.S. 19.
See manatees and other wildlife during a guided boat tour of Kings Bay. The boats leave every half-hour from Crystal River Manatee Dive and Tour, 267 NW Third St. Boat rides are $3 for adults and $1 for children. Free shuttle buses leave from the First Baptist Church parking lot at the festival site to a boat dock on Kings Bay.
A manatee education exhibit area is on Citrus Avenue at Heritage Village featuring displays from Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Manatee Rescue Group and Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.
Attractions include the St. Petersburg Times Fine Arts Show, entertainment and children's activities, craft vendors and food. Admission is $2.
Major sponsors are Progress Energy, the St. Petersburg Times and the Crystal River Rotary.
Saturday 10-10:30 a.m. Jimmy Brown
10:30 a.m.-noon Amazzing Steel Band
Noon-12:45 p.m. Keith Hope
12:45-2 p.m. Tampa Bay Parrot Head Band
2-4 p.m. Sounds Like Buffett to Me song contest
Sunday Noon-1 p.m. Brad Jarlenski
1-2 p.m. Jackie Sharp's School of Music
2-2:30 p.m. Casey Kennedy
2:30-3 p.m. Melanie Morrison
3-4 p.m. Two Thorns and a Rose
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