The 1913 Hernando County Courthouse in Brooksville. (Photo by Bonnie Gross)
The oak-shaded 1913 Hernando County Courthouse in Brooksville is the center of the Blueberry Festival.  (Photo by Bonnie Gross)

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.

BlueberryFest-logo-350And like the strawberry harvest, the berry growers of Central Florida hate to miss an opportunity for a party as the harvest celebrations shift from Plant City to nearby Brooksville.

You don’t think of Florida as blueberry country, but the state is now eighth in the nation in blueberry production.

The May-Stringer House in Brookesville is home to the Hernando Heritage Museum. (Photo by Bonnie Gross)
The May-Stringer House in Brookesville is home to the Hernando Heritage Museum. (Photo by Bonnie Gross)

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 27-28, 2019, under the shade of the gnarly oak trees on the courthouse lawn in Brooksville’s downtown square.

Events at Florida Blueberry Festival:  

Florida Blueberry Festival Characters
Characters created to embody Florida blueberries

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.

The area’s natural beauty

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.”

The forest is home to what many argue is Florida’s prettiest river for kayaking and canoes (the Withlacoochee River) AND what may be its best paved bike trail (the 46-mile Withlacoochee Bike Trail.)

Also nearby are great mountain bike trails (Weeki Wachee Springs plus great kayaking on the spring-fed Weeki Wachee River.

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 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.

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