Crystal River Manatee Festival:
Cold Days, But Such Warm Hearts!

Freezing temps at the 2010 Crystal River Festival drove even our hardy volunteers indoors! (l-r) Club volunteers Deb Brown, Melissa Johnston, and Doug Brown set up space kindly offered by SMC Board Member Matt Clemons at Aardvark's Florida Kayak Company. (Photo by Helen Spivey.)

By Helen Spivey,
Co-Chair, Save the Manatee Club Board of Directors

People asked me why they hold the Manatee Festival during the cold season and I say I see it as marketing: Marketing the manatees that come in droves to bask in warm spring waters of the Crystal and Homosassa River when it’s cold elsewhere.

This year really proved my point. Over a week of hard freezes, a little sleet here and a little snow there, and a 20-knot wind out of the North, there  were manatees aplenty trying to escape the frigid waters. 

Apparently, Save the Manatee Club volunteers will withstand all of nature’s elements to educate others about the gentle, endangered marine mammals. That was clear over the two-day festival, when our volunteers showed up willing to stand outdoors for hours on end at our education booth. Only knowing how much their efforts were appreciated kept our volunteers warm.  (Of course, some might say, “Then why was I freezing?”  To which I can reply, “Because it was freezing.”)

It was 20 degrees at the festival opening on Saturday morning — yes, 20 degrees in Florida!   We had been placed at the “Manatee Education” area behind the Crystal River Women’s Club, a number of blocks from the main part of the Festival.  Visitors are primarily drawn to this area for free boat rides and an outdoor Beer Garden with music. 

Unfortunately, this year, the cold and the winds kept the boats from going out.
Weighing all this and starting to feel frozen stiff, we decided to do what manatees do: go to where it’s warm.  However, not equipped to bask in the warm waters like the manatees, we drew a map for the folks that might come by to let them know we had relocated to the heated warmth of Aardvark's Florida Kayak Company, some five blocks away.

The hearty, popsicle-like volunteers gathered brochures, the Adopt-A-Manatee book, Krystal the 4-foot donation draw plush manatee, and what money we had taken in, and we all headed to the kayak shop. The temperature was still below freezing, and the snow that blew off the canopy cover when we left was still un-melted. There was not a sunbeam in the cloudy sky.

Two freezing, windy days and yet we met some nice folks who stopped by to say hello and sign up for our email action alerts. And you just couldn’t beat the dedication of the caring volunteers who braved through all of this, including the ones who came out Friday and set it all up and then came back in the still freezing weather and wind to pack it all up Sunday at closing. Our thanks to all of you including Ann Hemme, Ruth Patterson, Susan Aungst, Ruth King, Melissa Johnston, Deb & Doug Brown, Tracy Colson, Steve Sapienza, Matt & Sue Clemons, and everyone else who helped! 

I kept joking we would have to have an annual reenactment of the Crystal River Manatee Festival of 2010 in July with a picnic and everyone going for a swim and a kayak ride.  Of course, a hurricane might show up, but at least it would be warm...

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