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Festival full of food, fun, snakes

"We made every effort to get more entertainment,'' says one festival volunteer.

By MICHELLE JONES

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


SAN ANTONIO -- Irene was not invited to participate in last year's Rattlesnake Festival, so she decided to shut it down. Then being as fickle as hurricanes tend to be, she passed right by without causing a lick of damage, much to everyone's delight.

That was the first time in the festival's 34-year history that the festival was canceled.

"This year's will be bigger and better," said Joan Rogers, who is in charge of the arts and crafts portion of the event. "I will have many repeat crafters, plus more after last year's disappointment."

She added that the arts and crafts have to be handmade by the exhibitor.

"No kits or commercially made items are allowed," she said.

Through the years, the evolution of the festival has come from gathering rattlesnakes for their venom to educating the public on how to share the environment with the reptiles.

Both days of the festival, Snakes Alive, Dennis and Carole Moore's Tampa-based reptile show, will feature a variety of snakes, including the Eastern diamondback.

The Moores teach people about the snakes, describing their habitats and dispelling myths about the reptiles. They take questions from the audience and try to help people face their fears about the cold-blooded critters.

Gopher racing, with mechanical turtles, is also an event that has evolved through the years.

Because real gopher turtles are protected by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, replicas race on tracks with ropes propelling them to the finish line.

Children vie for prizes as they race the gophers, helped along by shouts of encouragement from friends and family members.

Another highlight of the festival is the free games for children, including old-fashioned sack races, egg toss, the dizzy sponge and the egg and spoon races. Pony rides, for $2, a petting farm, for $1, and a puppet show will also be available for the children.

There will be wildlife exhibits and plenty of food, including corn on the cob, popcorn, ice cream, sausage sandwiches and beverages.

On Saturday, the Rattlesnake and Gopher Enthusiasts (RAGE), which hosts the festival, prepares barbecue chicken dinners with baked beans, cole slaw and a roll, all for $6. On Sunday, Roy Hardy's famous fried fish dinner will be available for $5. It includes fish, baked beans, cheese grits, cole slaw and hush puppies.

Breakfast by the Catholic Women's Club at St. Anthony's Church, which includes pancakes, bacon, orange juice and coffee for $3, is available both mornings, beginning at 6 a.m. Saturday and at 8 a.m. Sunday.

Daylong entertainment by bluegrass, country and rock groups is scheduled for Saturday, and gospel and country will be featured Sunday.

"We made every effort to get more entertainment this year," said Pat Pike, a festival volunteer.

Some of the entertainers lined up to perform include David Beaumont, Rainelle Baumbaugh, the Rythm N' Motion Cloggers, Megan and Joe Bridwell, Showstoppers and Remnant.

A truck show is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, and on Sunday a Gold Wing Motorcycle Show is on the agenda, featuring 50 motorcycles made by Honda. Members of the Hernando Old Car Club will also display some of their antiques cars on Sunday.

- Michelle Jones covers central Pasco community news. She can be reached at (813) 226-3459. Her e-mail address is jones@sptimes.com.

If you go

Rattlesnake Festival

Where: San Antonio City Park, just off State Road 52, 3 miles east of Interstate 75.

When: From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. SundayCost: Free admission to festival. Snake show costs $4 for adults and $1 for children.

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