Local News

Caladium Festival off to hurricane-free start

LAKE PLACID - "We almost missed it," said Phyllis Konitzer said Friday morning from a mobility scooter on South Oak Avenue, the 2013 Caladium Festival's main drag. "I just happened to go online and saw it was going to be next week." So Konitzer and her husband, Gene, booked a room at LaQuinta and drove east on Thursday night. They'll stay all day and return home to Brooksville on Friday night. Frequent festival goers like the Konitzers might not have known about the switch to the last weekend in July - designed to avoid the mid-August intensification of hurricane season - but Greater Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce CEO Eileen May doesn't regret it. Past end-of-August festivals have been plagued by rain, tropical storms and hurricanes. "It was absolutely the right decision," May said on a dry Friday afternoon. "The place is packed. It also allows for children who haven't gone back to school yet to come with their parents."
Bus tours are also selling out, May said. For $10, fairgoers can board an air-conditioned Annett coach, ride out CR 621 to the caladium fields, listen to a lecture from a grower, and circle back to Melville Dewey's former home. "We can't take any more telephone reservations," May said. "They're pretty much booked. You should arrive one to two hours early." On Saturday, the main attraction is the Car and Bike Show; 93 classics have entered. On Sunday, it's the Airboat and Swamp Buggy show from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Both are at DeVane Park, and admission is free. A stroll down Oak Avenue reveals new vendors: Susanne and Bill Baker brought blue-jean can and bottle cozies - two for $25 - from New Smyrna Beach, featuring leathery Levi-like back pocket patches stamped with the logos of favorite college teams. On Pine Street, First Presbyterian Church offered free ice water. A few feet away, Budweiser drafted equally cold brews for $3, and Henscratch Farms sponsored a wine-tasting. Civic groups raised funds by selling belt-busting blueberry cobblers, burgers, chicken sandwiches and hot dogs. At the south end of Oak, Joyce DeSmet signed T-shirts that were sold under the chamber of commerce tent. "I've only been painting for a year," she said, but her rendition of caladiums imposed over the state of Florida was chosen for this year's official design. At the north end of Oak, Jason Becker offered relief. He drove seven hours from Hilton Head, S.C. to set up Floating Leaf's tent of leaf- and fish-shaped tables or hammock chairs or swinging love seats. How did he find Lake Placid? The same way the Bakers did: vendors inform each other about which are the worthiest shows. "This is a good show, and I had an opening in my schedule," said Becker, who attends three festivals a month. This is his full-time job; he also makes the wooden arms for $269 arm chairs or $399 love seats, which can be suspended from a strong tree limb or porch truss. "Oh man!" one woman sank into the arm chair and lifted her legs into a floating footrest. "This is very nice." "It takes all the pressure off your back," Becker agreed. Fairgoers can buy caladium plants and gardeners can purchase bags of 20 or cases of 200 bulbs. The Konitzers bought a case of mixed bulbs last year for their acre, and came back for another case this year. "They grow very well in Brooksville," Phyllis said. "If they didn't, we wouldn't be back," Gene added. gpinnell@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5828