SEBRING — Highlands Hammock State Park is celebrating Florida history, culture, and nature at the 36th Annual Civilian Conservation Corps Festival on Saturday, Feb. 11.
More commonly known as the ‘CCC Festival,’ the park’s signature event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will open with a ‘swinging beginning’ with the Sebring High Jazz Band playing big band music from the 1930s and 40s.
Throughout the day, heritage exhibitors and artisans will demonstrate quilting, spinning, pine needle basketry and other folk arts including a full day of blacksmithing which may be observed at the Panther Pavilion.
Two blacksmiths Trez Cole and Tony Fenn, from the Florida Artist Blacksmith Association, will forge a steel alligator sculpture as a silent auction artwork which one lucky bidder will take home at the close of the festival. Fenn reported that “we have been furiously practicing the sculpture and are looking forward to seeing what creature is created from our efforts.” They are also making small alligator pieces for people to buy at a lower price.
Historical societies from Highlands and DeSoto counties will reveal the history of ‘Old Florida.’ Lake Kissimmee State Park is setting up their Cow Camp Reenactment for visitors to experience the early cow hunters.
Arts and crafts vendors, tram rides, carriage rides and pony rides are also featured.
Florida Highwaymen artists from Ft. Pierce and Vero Beach will be exhibiting and selling their paintings.
With more rare plant and animal species than any other Florida State Park; and, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Highlands Hammock is known for its magnificent hammock, the CCC Museum and other New Deal Era structures. Park Services Specialist Carla Sherwin stated,
“The park is truly unique in that it is a place where both wilderness and history are preserved -- where visitors may walk the trails where the Florida panther and black bear quietly pass and where visitors to the CCC Museum experience the Great Depression.”
Both wildlife and history are highlighted in the festival. Featured guest speaker, Florida author and journalist Craig Pittman, will reveal the extraordinary tale of the battle to save the Florida panther from extinction in his Florida Humanities program ‘Cat Tale: The Wild Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther.’ Pittman, who is the author of the book by the same title and other non-fiction books published by UF Press, will be available for book sales and signings following his noon talk.
CCC Museum curator David Schmidt will honor the legacy of the CCC with special guests who will join him in the CCC Museum between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. to speak informally with visitors. They include museum volunteer John Schumacher who grew up in the Depression, Ranger Darrel Smith, the ‘CCC Man’ and Mary Ann Holewinski, who will recall husband Victor Weiger’s CCC experiences.
“We are so pleased that Ranger Darrel will reprise his first person narrative as Velmar Mack, a CCC alum with whom Smith had a longtime association,” Sherwin remarked. Schmidt will examine the extraordinary collection of murals preserved in New Deal Era post offices throughout the state at 1:30 p.m. when he unveils a new program, ‘Florida’s Fabulous WPA Murals.’ Archaeologist John Goss, will close the speaker programs at 2:15 p.m. when he presents a ‘Prehistory of Indigenous Peoples of Central Florida.’ Goss will also be exhibiting his display of Native American artifacts.
At the Kid’s Corner, youngsters may engage in nature exhibits, observe live animals, play traditional games such as cat’s cradle and hop scotch, and take scavenger hunts. “Children will be thrilled to take a ‘pony ride’ on Bailey, a huge white draft horse or Catfish, the big bay from VIP Custom Carriage,” Sherwin remarked. “We are so fortunate that Sebring High Band Director Tony Juliano has scheduled both the jazz band and the concert band to play throughout the festival this year.” “We have a full festival planned, so we very much hope that people will come out and enjoy the day,” she concluded. For those spending the day, refreshments may be purchased at the Hammock Inn and food vendors will be providing BBQ, tacos, hot dogs, kettle corn and snow cones.
All CCC Festival programs, musical entertainment, and activities are free and open to the public with the exception of the tram rides, pony rides and carriage rides. Tram tickets are sold through the Hammock Inn concession, which is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ticket cost is $15 per adult and $10 for children six to 12 years old. Children aged five and younger are free. Tickets may be purchased on the day of the tour or one day in advance. Call the Hammock Inn at 863-402-0061.
Pony rides are $5 per ride and carriage rides are $10 per person. Park entry fees of $6 per vehicle (up to 8 people) and $4 per single occupant vehicle apply. Highlands Hammock State Park is located at 5931 Hammock Road in Sebring.