Blueberry harvest shares stage with wildlife, natural wonders
As Florida’s strawberry harvest winds down, the packing houses turn their attention to home-grown blueberries.
You don’t think of Florida as blueberry country, but the state is now eighth in the nation in blueberry production.
Brooksville is the center of 15 Florida counties that grow blueberries. All are participating in this festival to celebrate the spring blueberry harvest.
The festival is the blue cousin to Plant City’s Florida Strawberry Festival , although much smaller, attracting an estimated 50,000 last year.
The Florida Blueberry Festival is April 22-23, 2017, under the shade of the gnarly oak trees on the courthouse lawn in Brooksville’s downtown square.
Events at Florida Blueberry Festival:
The festival offers 20 food concessionaires, the Fresh from Florida Market featuring Florida grown blueberries and produce, a car show, street entertainers, 85 artisans in a juried show and 120 retail exhibitors. To appeal to all members of the family, there is a range of other offerings — from beer gardens and wine bars to magic shows, dogs shows and stilt walkers.
‘Brush with the Blues’ focuses on area’s natural beauty
During the week leading up to the festival, artists from across the Tampa Bay area will converge on Brooksville to paint scenes reflecting the natural beauty of Hernando County, somewhat akin to a “Day in the Life” project, only with a paintbrush instead of cameras.
Even without the blueberry, Brooksville/Hernando County is the center of one of Florida’s greatest unspoiled natural regions.
Nearby is the Withlacoochee State Forest, named by the World Wildlife Fund as one of the “10 Coolest Places in North America You’ve Never Seen.”
Blueberry Festival facts
10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Saturday, April 22, 2017 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 23, 2017
The Festival is located in historic downtown Brooksville, approximately 10 to 15 miles west of Interstate 75 at exit 301.
Adults 18+, $10; ages 13 to 17, $5, Children 12 and under, free.
The festival has designated several areas for parking. Parking fees range from $4 to $5, based on location. All proceeds go directly to the charities managing the parking lots.
Brooksville, in Hernando County, is about an hour northeast of Tampa and 90 minutes northwest of Orlando.
For more information about the event, visit the Blueberry Festival web site.
Things to do near Brooksville
- Visit a you-pick blueberry farm.
- Paddle the Withlacoochee River
- Bike the Withlacoochee Bike Trail, one of the best rail trails in the state.
- Visit Weeki Wachee Springs for the mermaid show and/or to paddle the beautiful river.
- Hike in the Withlacoochee State Forest. There are more than 100 miles of trails through these beautiful woods.
- Visit the lovely, evocative Dade Battlefield Historic State Park.
- Dine at the Florida Cracker Kitchen, 966 E. Jefferson St. in Brooksville. It is well worth a stop, even if all you get is the Smoked Mullet Dip ($8.99 a tub.) It’s open for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Saturday and serves outstanding dinners Friday and Saturday night. The menu is themed around Old Florida, from the Bokeelia Shrinp Omelette ($8.99) to the Apalachicola Po’ Boys (choice of oysters, shrimip, gator tail or fresh fish.) The 10,000 Island Shrimp and Grits ($8.99 lunch/$14 dinner) is excellent, packed with flavor.
Places to stay near Brooksville
Hotels.com: Hotels in Brooksville
There are a few inexpensive mom-and-pop motels in Brooksville, but there are several modern moderate-priced hotels are at the I-75 intersection about five miles away.
Campsites are available in the Withlacoochee State Forest. The forest’s 131 campsites are available on a first-come, first-served bases. See posted information about camping fees. The rate is $20 per night from April through October for sites with electric hookups. Sites in Crooked River, with water only, are $15. Fees are collected on the honor system at the campground entrances.
- Buttgenbach Mine Campground in the Croom Motorcycle Area: 51 sites with electricity, water, picnic tables and fire rings. Dump station in campground. Warning: It can get noisy here, especially on weekends, because of the motorcycles and off-road vehicles.
- Silver Lake Campground in the Silver Lake Recreation Area: 23 sites with electric, water, picnic tables and fire ring. Dump station in campground.
- Cypress Glen Campground in the Silver Lake Recreation Area: 34 campsites with electric, water, picnic table and fire ring. Also features kayak launch, nature trail and boardwalk.
- Crooked River Campground in the Silver Lake Recreation Area: 26 primitive sites (tents only) with water, picnic table and fire ring. restrooms and showers.
- For more information on Withlacoochee State Forest Camping, contact the Florida Forest Service office in Brooksville at 352-754-6896.
These campgrounds are in the forest, accessible only on dirt roads, and most are shaded well by the forest canopy. If it weren’t for the electric and water hookups, you would think they were primitive. Well worth camping here for an authentic Florida experience, especially if you are in a tent.
Odds and Ends
The Florida National Cemetery, the state’s newest resting ground for American soldiers, is located in nearby Bushnell. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs web site.