It’s time to experience a new twist to an old favorite at the 2013 Florida Black Bear and Wildlife Conservation Festival Oct. 12 in Umatilla.

Partners worked hard during the past year and a half to bring new exhibits, presentations and vendors to this annual event.

For starters, the former Florida Black Bear Festival has a new name: Florida Black Bear and Wildlife Conservation Festival. This change allows the FWC and partners to bring to the community more wildlife, exhibits, presentations and children’s activities, because it formally recognizes that this event is not just about the Florida black bear; it’s about helping people understand and live in harmony with all native wildlife in Florida.

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

This free, family oriented festival, now in its 14th year, is Saturday, Oct. 12, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Cadwell Park in Umatilla, south of the Ocala National Forest. The event is geared to allow families to spend a few hours together doing something fun and educational at the same time.

Some of the activities this year include field trips deep into the Ocala National Forest, where FWC bear research biologists Walter McCown and Brian Scheick will be waiting to lead participants through natural bear habitat and explain a bit of black bear natural history. There is also a tour of the Black Bear Scenic Byway and tours to the historic Carr cabin. Famed naturalist and sea turtle advocate Archie Carr Jr. previously owned the Carr family cabin, built in 1938 on 46 acres of scrub and forest on Lake Nicotoon in Marion County.

On festival grounds, there are new things to experience. The U.S. Forest Service will educate visitors about camping safely in the forest and Smokey Bear will visit and take photos with children of all ages. FWC exhibits feature native Florida wildlife. Children can “fish” or try archery and participate in a popular activity called “Come Be a Bear,” an interactive journey where they wear furry vests and learn how bears find food and survive in the wild.

“Fishing” takes place in the recreation hall in the center of the park. That’s right. The FWC brings technology and the art of fishing together with a fishing simulator that combines footage of game fish and computer animation to create a realistic fishing experience.

FWC biologists will be on hand to answer bear- and wildlife-related questions. If people have bears or other animals getting into their trash, the FWC can show folks all the options, including bear-resistant garbage cans, electric fencing and modifying one’s own trash can.

Participants can see how the FWC traps and captures bears.

The popular FWC traveling exhibit trailer will also be there with its wildlife display. In addition, educational presentations will be at the Umatilla Community Building throughout the day for informative and entertaining programs given by various experts and biologists about black bears, coyotes, panthers and snakes as well as video presentations about the Carr cabin and the Black Bear Scenic Byway.

Returning to the main stage are The Acoustikats, an acoustic-rock-oriented duo from Tampa Bay. They play familiar songs so people can sing along.

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 and other wildlife with minimal conflict. So get outside, enjoy the beautiful fall weather and learn about Florida’s unique and diverse wildlife at the Florida Black Bear and Wildlife Conservation Festival.

The festival is presented by Defenders of Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, the city of Umatilla, the FWC, Lake County, Black Bear Scenic Byway and Umatilla Chamber of Commerce. For more information on the festival, call 352-669-3511 or visit and click on the festival link. For information on Florida’s wildlife, go to and select “Wildlife & Habitats.”

Logo courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

What's Your Reaction?

[reactions id="345158"]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *