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Mucky ideas rise to the top

The Weeki Wachee Swamp Festival offers food, music, crafts and a chance to wear wacky costumes in the spring.

By JENNIFER FARRELL

Revised March 7, 2001

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 5, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Kevin White]
Josh Jones, 15, of Bayport adjusts his glasses on the way to being crowned as Swamp King.
WEEKI WACHEE -- Marie Fisher was sweating even before the judging got started.

Huddled under a cloak outfitted to look like a cluster of trees, she waited in the shade near the side of the stage Saturday at the Weeki Wachee Swamp Festival, eyeing the competition.

"I'm looking and I'm seeing some neat stuff," she said. "This is scary. . . . Look at her. That's really good."

Fisher, 38, of Weeki Wachee was among three contestants vying to be named Swamp Monster in the festival's annual contest, which is part beauty pageant, part Halloween.

In the end, there was no need to be nervous: On her first try, Fisher walked away with this year's title.

"I love costumes," she said. "I make Halloween costumes every year, and I usually win."

Fisher, a cashier at the Texaco service station on Spring Hill Drive in Spring Hill, came up with the tree idea during a shopping trip. "I saw the camouflage fabric and thought about making it 3-D."

She also entered in the Swamp Queen category, but lost out to 29-year-old Diane Blevins, a dental assistant who lives in Tampa.

Before the contest, the women stood apart from a crowd of spectators and swapped design tips.

"Did you have a hard time finding bugs?" Blevins wanted to know, straightening her floor-length black cloak, accented here and there with moss and plastic spiders.

"Big Lots," Fisher said. "I got mine at Big Lots."

"I got mine from the toy box," Blevins said.

Blevins, whose family owns a cabin in Bayport, is a regular at the annual festival. Her aunt, Jackie Malowney, was crowned Swamp Queen last year, and her cousin, 14-year-old Josh Jones of Brandon, was named Swamp King this year.

"We come out here every chance we get," Blevins said.

Added Malowney, 48, of Tampa: "We've got a dynasty going here."

Rounding out the Swamp court were: Ashley Bishop, 7, of Dinwiddie, Va., who was crowned princess; and 13-month-old William Hazivasilis of Brooksville, who was named prince.

The festival, which concluded Sunday, drew thousands to the Weeki Wachee Christian Camp on the banks of the Weeki Wachee River. Visitors sampled an array of food, music and arts and crafts. Near the entrance, crowds thronged a white trailer holding three tigers, a Florida panther and an African leopard.

Beth Blomquist of Hernando Beach loved the animals, but she showed up at the festival, her fourth in as many years, to shop. She likes the selection and laid-back atmosphere.

On Saturday afternoon, Blomquist headed home, balancing bags in both arms.

"They've got a lot of neat stuff," she said. "It's not just all trash."

Proceeds from the festival benefit the Weeki Wachee Area Club, the Weeki Wachee Crime Watch and the Hernando Environmental Land Protectors.

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