17th Lake Helen Florida Authors Book Fair, Saturday, March 5, 10am – 3pm
Historic Hopkins Hall, 192 Connecticut Avenue, Lake Helen
Twenty five Florida authors, including Bruce Hunt, will sign books at this renowned event, sponsored by the Friends of the Lake Helen Public Library.
St. George Island 29th Annual Charity Chili Cookoff
All the proceeds from this popular event go to support the St. George Island Volunteer Fire Department.
I’m reading Greg Jenkins’ fascinating “Chronicles of the Strange and Uncanny in Florida” (Pineapple Press). The first chapter covers a long history of UFO sightings in Florida, and it reminded me of my own attempt at a close encounter. Back in 1996, while researching for my 1st edition of “Visiting Small Town Florida”, I spent a curious evening with a group of Gulf Breeze “skywatchers” at Shoreline Park just outside of Gulf Breeze, near Pensacola. This informal group came together in the wake of frequent sightings that began in the late 1980’s and the release of Ed Walters 1990 book, “The Gulf Breeze Sightings” (William Morrow & Co.). At that time they were meeting almost every evening to watch for UFOs. I fully expected to find a bunch of tinfoil-hat-wearing loonies, but was surprised to find instead ordinary, every-day folks. They cooked out on the grill. Some brought covered dishes. They set out lawn chairs and blankets and settled in for what turned out to be a very sociable evening. They were very friendly to me (they fed me dinner!) We didn’t see any UFOs that night, but they recounted stories of sightings they’d had. They had a variety of theories, from alien-piloted spacecraft, to secret military “aurora-powered” rocket planes. Several years later Ed Walters suffered some discreditation when, allegedly, a styrofoam model UFO was found in his attic, after he had moved away. However, skywatchers continued to see unexplained aerial phenomenon for a number of years (and maybe still do). You just never know what you might find in (the skies above) a Florida small town.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas Festival, Everglades City, February 22 – 25
Guided tours, guest speakers, good food
By the 1940s some people began to recognize the vital role the Everglades played in the climatological and ecological balance of the state of Florida. Perhaps the most valiant of them was Miami Herald columnist and author Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Her book The Everglades: River of Grass was published in 1947, the same year Everglades National Park finally opened. For the next fifty years she fought vigorously against human encroachment on the Everglades. In the 1960s, while in her late seventies, she became involved with the Audubon Society of Miami’s efforts to halt the building of an international airport in the Everglades. Society members pleaded with her to start an organization that would unite the efforts of those concerned with the fate the Everglades. She did and named it Friends of the Everglades, an organization that is still today one of the most powerful voices for the area’s preservation. Proving that good people do not always die young, Marjory Stoneman Douglas passed away in 1998 at the age of 108.
Cortez 29th Annual Fishing Festival
February 19 – 20, Live entertainment, fantastic food
Cortez may be the last of something once commonplace in yesterday’s Florida—a coastal commercial fishing town. Almost everything in Cortez has some relationship to seafood, fishing, or boats. Signs along Cortez Road advertise smoked mullet, fresh shrimp, outboard motor repair, bait, and fishing charters. Way back when, locals used to call this area “the Kitchen” because of the abundance of seafood and shellfish caught in these waters.
“Visiting Small Town Florida, Third Edition”, coming in April (Pineapple Press). Cover design, She’ Hicks.
One question I get asked at book signings, maybe more than any other question, is, “What’s the best Florida small town to live in?” And I always try to answer, first, by explaining that my book is a travel guide to visiting small towns in Florida, not a guide to moving to them. I tell them that every person has different needs and therefore, different criteria for deciding where to live. It’s a very personal decision, and not to be taken lightly. Then, after my explanation, the next question they invariably ask is, “So, what’s the best Florida small town to live in?” I know that people have used my “Visiting Small Town Florida” books to help them look for a town to live in. Certainly visiting is a good first step toward choosing. So, after several years of regularly getting this question I finally gave in and started telling them, “OK. If I were going to move to a Florida small town here’s what I would look for. Mind you, these are just my personal criteria for my own small town livability needs. As the standard disclaimer goes: Your requirements and results may vary. It would have to be a town that understands the importance of, and embraces, its history. It would also have to be one that encourages the maintenance and restoration of its historic structures and neighborhoods. It would have to be a town that promotes itself as a destination for visitors interested in a historic place—that is the economic life-blood of nearly every successful Florida small town. It would have to be a vital, enthusiastic, friendly community of people who work hard to keep it that way. And one more thing—gotta have good restaurants! Here are five that ring all those bells: Apalachicola, up in the panhandle where the Apalachicola River spills into the Gulf; Fernandina Beach, on the north tip of Amelia Island; Mount Dora, in Central Florida’s hills-and-lakes country; Anna Maria, just south of the entrance to Tampa Bay; and Boca Grande, on Gasparilla Island on the southwest coast.”