It’s a tradition that dates back 49 years, and it takes a community to stage it — but it’s worth the effort because people really seem to have a good time, said Betty Burke, chairwoman of the San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival & Run.
“Once those tents start going up, the atmosphere is charged all over town. Kids start getting excited. It’s a big event for San Antonio,” said Burke, who is a member of the Rotary Club of San Antonio.
The event nearly died three years ago, after the people who organized the festival for decades decided they couldn’t do it.
The seven Rotary Clubs of East Pasco took over the event to keep it going, and the Rotary Club of San Antonio took the reins last year, Burke said.
The festival is a community event, in the truest sense of the word, Burke said.
“The community is behind it. We could not do this without the community,” she said.
It’s an event that aims to provide affordable fun for people of all ages.
“Some of the people from other areas thought: ‘Well, rope off the park and charge admission,’ ” Burke said.
But she added: “That’s not the way it works here. You can do that somewhere else, but not in San Antonio.”
Admission and parking are free.
There are four parking lots and there’s a bus to provide rides for those parking in the lot that’s farthest away, because it’s on the other side of State Road 52.
“The entertainment is music all day long, from 10:15 (a.m.) until 5 o’clock. It’s mostly old-time and country music. We have a blue grass. We have an ’80s band,” she said.
“Food — we have quite a variety. We have food trucks and booths. We have hamburgers and cheeseburgers, and fries. We have pizza. Hot dogs. Pulled pork and chicken. We have Caribbean, Cuban, Cajun, churros and this — I can’t wait to see this — there is 30-foot inflatable ice cream cone, and it serves soft-serve ice cream,” she said.
And there’s more.
“We have kettle corn, boiled peanuts, lemonade and iced tea, and believe it or not, one of the big attractions is the fresh, boiled corn on the cob. People say to me, ‘Well, you’re going to have corn on the cob, aren’t you?’” Burke said.
In addition to plentiful food selections, there are scores of free activities.
There are free games for children, free crafts run by the Future Teachers Association from Saint Leo University and demonstrations by Cowboy Tom and his horse, a retired rodeo man who does rope tricks.
“We have a pioneer village, with a blacksmith, a rope winder, a basket maker, a cane weaver. We have a juggler, who even juggles fire,” Burke said.
There’s also a small farm animal exhibit.
And, of course, there’s Jim Mendenhall’s Snake Show.
There is a charge, but it is less expensive than it was before, Burke said.
“We have reduced the (ticket) costs, because a lot of people said it was too expensive for families, and we try to make this affordable for families,” Burke said.
Tickets to the snake show are $5 for adults, and $3 for children 12 and under, except for those age 5 and younger, who get in for free.
Mendenhall’s show is educational, Burke said. He helps people gain a better understanding of snakes — helping them to have a healthy respect for the reptiles, but not to be afraid, she said.
Mendenhall also talks about the important roles that snakes and gopher tortoises have within the environment, Burke said.
The snake show is always popular, but so are the gopher tortoise races, she said.
There was a time when live gopher tortoises were raced at the festival, but those days are long gone. Now, wooden models race, and the races always draw a crowd.
“The kids absolutely love them,” Burke said.
The festival takes considerable effort to pull off.
A crew of roughly 200 volunteers is involved. Numerous groups and organizations play a role in the festival’s success, including the Town of St. Leo, The City of San Antonio, Saint Leo University, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Pasco High Interact Club and others.
Dan Devine has been a huge help in organizing the event, Burke said. “We couldn’t have done it without him,” she said.
Proceeds from the event benefit the Rotary Club of San Antonio. It’s the club’s largest fundraiser of the year. Last year, the club, which has 14 members, raised $10,000 for charitable projects, with most of the money spent on projects in Pasco County, Burke said.
The Rotary Club isn’t the only beneficiary from the event, she said.
Residents living near San Antonio take advantage of the crowd, by selling parking spots in their yards, or doing yard sales.
Local businesses also get a boost.
“I own the antique shop right next to the post office, and that’s the biggest day. We make more that day than we do in several months.
“The restaurants are slammed. All of them. It’s a real good boon to the businesses,” Burke added.
She expects a crowd of 5,000 to 6,000 people at the festival this year.
That’s quite a bit, Burke noted, “for the little town of San Antonio.”
For more information, visit RattlesnakeFestival.com, or call (352) 588-4444.
San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival & Run
Where: San Antonio City Park, 12202 Main St., San Antonio
When: Oct. 17, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (The 5-mile and 1-mile runs begin at 8 a.m. Races are for walkers, families, kids and dogs. The entry fee for both races is $25, and $5 for children who are younger than 10 who are accompanied by an adult.)
Highlights: Music, gopher tortoise races, handmade arts and crafts, children’s rides and games, pumpkin patch, farmer’s market, farm animals, food trucks, beer garden, pioneer village and more.
How much: Free admission and parking. Charges for snake show, food and vendor items.
For more information: Call (352) 588-4444, or visit RattlesnakeFestival.com.
Published October 14, 2015