I was looking forward to this weekend. Merri and I had a trip planned. We were going to travel Florida, from one end to the other. First stops in Florida were to be Central and South America. Then, traveling deeper into the Sunshine State, we were going to visit Ireland, Great Britain, Europe, Asia and Africa! We were part of a group of thousands of Floridians who were looking forward to this trip around the world this weekend. No, I did not get an ‘A’ in high school geography, but I, and my group, have been visiting Florida and the rest of the world on Memorial Day weekend for years, without ever having to leave White Springs!
We were all anticipating our annual trip to the premier event of Florida Folklife, the 68th annual Florida Folk Festival. Yes, this was to have been the weekend when “the World comes to White Springs!” It’s a thing of wonder to me. At the Stephen Foster State Park, a 15-minute walk from our home in White Springs, Merri and I have “visited” just about every country on every continent on the globe, listened to their music, admired and purchased their art, sampled a world of their culinary treasures, danced their dances until we were breathless, and we listened to their stories and, most importantly, learned the meaning and the value of their culture.
Obviously, the Florida Folk Festival is so much more than some people think it is. As my friend Tom Shed said, “Today when you talk to a millennial about folk music and folk festivals, they think of the painted school buses and tie-dyed hippies sitting around a fire singing Koombaya. It is not that! It is the music, art, culture, dance and celebration of all things Florida. It’s the cultural history and the physical history that created Florida. It’s far more than just a folk festival… it’s really the music and art festival of Florida. You will see a celebration of art, dance, crafts, food and music, and every one of those has a connection to the state of Florida. There’re a thousand festivals in the state of Florida. This is the only one put on by the state of Florida for the entire state of Florida.”
So, those in the know of what the Florida Folk Festival truly is were really looking forward to this amazing annual event! The publicity machine was already in gear, plans for the festival were being made, artists had been booked, and tickets had been sold! Then, in late March, came the sad news. “It is with deep regret we announce the cancellation of the 2020 Florida Folk Festival,” organizers said. “The health and safety of our participants and visitors is foremost in our minds.” So Merri and I are not having the annual weekend adventure that we’ve had for so many continuous years. The cancellation is necessary but it’s sad, really sad! But all we can do is move on and mark our calendars for May 28-30, 2021, next year’s Folk Festival!
As a bike rider here in Hamilton County, I have been happy to see the re-opening of Stephen Foster, Little Shoals and Big Shoals State Parks. All are excellent places to stroll, hike and ride. Social distancing is not a problem at these parks. The only thing you can’t avoid getting close to is nature! You may see a park ranger and if you do, wish a big welcome to Andrew Hughes. He is our newest Park Ranger at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park/Big Shoals. If you see him in the park, stop and say “Hello and welcome!”
If you want to get on the Suwannee River, most boat ramps are open, including the one next to the U.S. Hwy. 41 bridge in White Springs. American Canoe Adventures is putting people on the river too.
Over in Columbia County, the Alligator Lake Recreation Area features 1,000 acres of green space and wetlands, including 12 miles of hiking/biking trails, nature observation, fishing, canoe trails, a canoe launch and ADA restrooms.
The Suwannee River Regional Libraries, including White Springs and Jasper, want you to know that book drops are open Monday through Friday. Items returned will be quarantined according to recommended guidelines before being checked in and put on the shelf. The library is hard at work planning for the day they can check out items and see you in person again. Opening book drops is the first step in plans for reopening. They will keep you updated as they move forward. If you have any questions, they are still here for you. Contact them by phone at 386-397-1389 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let someone else help White Springs? David Ahrens of Boy Scout Troop 307 in Gainesville and his 10-man crew of fellow Scouts helped Big Shoals State Park out tremendously by replacing the existing bridge on the Long Branch trail. The trail and bridge have been washed out on more than one occasion and was in desperate need for replacement. David secured funding from the Suwannee Bicycle Association, and recruited a 10-member group of volunteer Boy scouts from Troop 307 that put in 39 hours each! Now the bridge is much more stable and secure and a UTV vehicle can safely be driven over the bridge should an emergency arise. Thanks to Troop 307 and to Suwannee Bike Association for all the help!
Let’s do our fair share to help ourselves! Bored with the new COVID-19 routine? Looking to have something to do this summer? Why not volunteer a little of your time for a good cause? There are opportunities at Stephen Foster State Park for events and for everyday maintenance around the park. Do you love gardening? They even have a volunteer position for that. If you know of someone that would like to volunteer please send them to this website. They can put in a volunteer application at https://www.floridastateparks.org/get-involved
In regards to the COVID-19, I am hopeful that we can “re-open” by proceeding slowly with cautious optimism, rather than by rushing in with careless abandon! An old man walked into a busy and crowded store, took one quick look around and spun around to leave! “Can I help you sir,” asked the store manager. “Yes,” said the old man. “If you want my bidness, perhaps you should help me to get what I need. You see, I need a lot of room, and I need to see a lot of masks, on your staff and on your customers too! Otherwise, I’m staying home! I’m not invincible and neither are you! I’m older and more experienced than I used to be and I have learned a thing or two, and you need to understand that if I don’t want to get too near you or anywhere near your store, even if you’ve got plenty of hickory bacon, sirloin steak and free toilet paper, it’s not personal, its science! If you want me to help you thrive, I expect you to help me survive! Have a nice day!” And he left without buying a thing!
Once again, I’ve said enough. But you haven’t! Let me hear from you. Tell me how you’re coping with all this. I am hopeful that we can depend on each other to do the right thing, and I hope that we can continue to feel proud of who we are and where we’re headed, and that we all appreciate how White Springs and its surrounding region is a very special place, to be honored and protected. Be safe in your socially isolated life in White Springs!