Land O’ Lakes resident wants return of Flapjack Festival

For nearly 30 years, Mark Ballard had a routine when it came to the Land O’ Lakes Flapjack Festival.

“The kids would go to eat the pancakes in the morning, then we would go and spend pretty much all day on the rides,” he said. “Then we could go home and come back again at night.”

The Land O’ Lakes Swamp Fest doesn’t have a parade, but it does have rides, games and entertainment for area residents, as well as providing fundraising opportunities for local organizations.  (File Photo)

The Land O’ Lakes Swamp Fest doesn’t have a parade, but it does have rides, games and entertainment for area residents, as well as providing fundraising opportunities for local organizations.
(File Photo)

Ballard lives on what was once the festival’s parade route, and he would take his children — and later his grandchildren — outside with chairs to see it every year.

For more than three decades, even before Ballard moved to Land O’ Lakes, the Flapjack Festival was a community event that included a parade, pageant and rides. Businesses had booths, food trucks served customers, and children played games.

And everyone ate flapjacks.

Over the years it became an annual staple in the community and was a popular destination for area residents. In a way, it was too popular: The Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce decided to move the festival from the Land O’ Lakes Community Center on U.S. 41 instead to a place that could accommodate its growth and parking needs. In 2008, the Flapjack Festival flipped over to the Pasco County Fairgrounds in Dade City.

But the public didn’t support the festival at the new location. A year later, it shut down for good. And Ballard still isn’t happy about the move that ended an annual tradition.

“If somebody came down there and took the Gasparilla parade away from Tampa and said they were going to move it to New Orleans, people would say ‘what’s going on there?’“ he said.

The Flapjack Festival was more than a community event. It was a community fundraiser, with local schools and churches benefiting financially.

The year after the festival left Land O’ Lakes, one of the recipients of those funds decided to fill that gap in the schedule. The Land O’ Lakes High School Athletic Booster Club began an event that’s now known as the Land O’ Lakes Swamp Fest, held at the same location and also with rides, games and an opportunity for local organizations to make some money.

But there’s no parade and no flapjack theme. It’s a smaller event as well. But according to coordinator Doug Hutchinson, that’s the way they want it.

“Swamp Fest is more like a community fair, more so than the Flapjack Festival,” he said.

Hutchinson believes that a smaller event can still be a fun destination for residents, but not get so big that it might grow out of its current location. Hutchinson, a member of the booster club for decades, was also a coordinator with the Flapjack Festival during its heyday. And like Ballard and others, he didn’t want to see it moved to Dade City back in 2008.

“In my opinion, you can’t have a community event and not have it in the community,” he said.

But now that it’s gone, Hutchinson feels Swamp Fest maintains a strong area presence like its predecessor.

Ballard believes that others share his desire to see the Flapjack Festival return, even if it means just seeing the name and theme make a comeback. But Hutchinson said they’ve worked to create something the community could embrace, the event is growing, and they never considered adopting the Flapjack Festival name.

“Flapjack was Flapjack. We wanted our own identity and our own little event,” he said.

Ironically, Swamp Fest itself is in jeopardy this year, and the venue is again the issue. Scheduled to begin Oct. 31, that timeframe could coincide with much-needed improvements to the Land O’ Lakes Community Center the county has budgeted and planned.

While the upgrade should be good for Swamp Fest and other area events in the future, Hutchinson isn’t sure if it will go on as planned this year, possibly facing cancellation until the work is completed. His organization should have a clearer picture of the county’s plans next month, he said.

Ballard has attended Swamp Fest, and said many elements of the Flapjack Festival are still there. But it’s not the same to him, and even though it’s been several years and a replacement is in place, the loss of the Flapjack Festival has left a bitter taste in his mouth.

“It just seems like the identity was stolen from the community,” he said.

Published July 23, 2014

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