The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is once again a proud partner in the Florida Black Bear Festival, an event dedicated to helping people understand and live in harmony with the fascinating Florida black bear.

The free, family-oriented festival, now in its 13th year, is scheduled for Saturday, March 31, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Cadwell Park in Umatilla, south of the Ocala National Forest. The free event is a great way for families to spend a few hours together doing something fun and educational at the same time.

One of the most popular activities is a tour that takes you deep into the Ocala National Forest, where FWC bear research biologists Walter McCown and Brian Scheick are waiting to lead field-trip participants through natural bear habitat and explain a bit of bruin natural history.

At the festival grounds, the FWC will have its popular activity for children of all ages called “Come Be a Bear!” This is an interactive journey where kids become bears and learn how these furry animals really live in the wild. They’ll see what a bear likes to eat, how it prepares for the winter and what its den is like.

FWC biologists will be on hand to answer all your bear-related questions. They’ll display a “buffet” of a typical bear’s diet – both the healthy, natural kind and the problem-causing kind only humans can provide. Learn the difference and prepare to be surprised at some of the things bears will eat and how biologists know.

The FWC will also display examples of bear-resistant garbage cans, an electric fence, a bear-resistant wildlife feeder and a trap used to capture bears.

There will be plenty of literature about bears and other wildlife, and the very popular FWC traveling exhibit trailer will be on hand with its wildlife diorama display.

There also will be informative and entertaining programs about black bears and living in bear country. FWC bear biologist Mike Orlando will present a lively program on “A Bear’s Life and Living with Bears,” during which he will discuss interactions between bears and people and how to ensure a positive and safe experience. He will also speak about bear behavior and the science and techniques used to discover the secrets of a bear’s life.

Kate Marshall, an award-winning documentary producer, will show some of her “The Season of the Bear” documentary series, with FWC biologists available to answer questions and give updates on some of the bears featured in this presentation.

“Our goal is for festival-goers to learn everything they always wanted to know about the Florida black bear, and have fun while they learn,” said Jessica Basham, the FWC’s bear festival coordinator.

Central Florida boasts the highest density of bears in the state and can truly be called bear country. But that distinction brings with it the responsibility to learn how to live with bears with minimal conflict.

“Helping people understand bear behavior has always been one of the FWC’s primary goals for the festival,” Basham said. “If people who live in bear country understand what makes bears tick, they will know what they can do to discourage bears from causing problems in their homes and communities.”

Also joining the festival in the presentations area is photojournalist Carlton Ward Jr., bear biologist Joe Guthrie, conservationist Mallory Lykes Dimmit and cinematographer Elam Stoltzfus, who are making a 1,000-mile journey through Florida in 100 days. This trek is called the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, and its goal is to create a vision to connect remaining natural lands, waters, working farms and ranches, from the Everglades to Georgia, protecting a functional ecological corridor for the health of people, wildlife and watersheds. Join us for a personal talk with the team and listen to the stories they have documented thus far in their incredible journey through the state.

The festival is also happy to provide for your listening pleasure The Acoustikats, an energetic acoustic-rock-oriented duo from Tampa Bay. They play popular songs that most people will recognize and with which they will be able to sing along.

The festival is presented by Defenders of Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, the city of Umatilla, the FWC and the Umatilla Chamber of Commerce. For more information about the 13th annual Florida Black Bear Festival, call 352-669-3511 or visit

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