The reason you live here — the Keys’ inspiring outdoors environment — is celebrated with pretty much two multi-day events wrapped into one big festival.
The Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges’ second annual Outdoor Fest starts Saturday at the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Key Largo and continues there through March 14. Then it’s southbound to the Key Deer, Great White Heron and Key West national wildlife refuges with events March 15 to 18 in the Lower Keys.
“The National Wildlife Refuge System is part of America's network of amazing public lands with refuges being the ‘cousin’ of America's national parks,” says Keys refuges ranger and outreach coordinator Kristie Killam. “We’re really fortunate to have these areas for people to visit and enjoy nature.”
“Nature can bring out the explorer in any kid,” says Crocodile Lake refuge ranger Jeremy Dixon, who has children ages 4, 7 and 10. “Any bug, tree snail, strange leaf, or even designs on tree bark opens up a wonderful world of discovery.”
The Outdoor Fest was created to remind people of the natural resources in the Keys and encourage them to get outside while promoting an understanding and appreciation of the refuges, home to some of the world’s most endangered habitats, plants, and wildlife.
There are guided birding and nature walks, backcountry boat trips, evening wildlife programs, nature sketching and photography, the third annual Run With Deer 5K and two big one-day festivals where it all comes into focus.
The first is the overall festival’s kickoff with a wildlife fair Saturday from 9 a.m to 2 p.m. at the Crocodile Lake refuge on County Road 905 just north of mile marker 106 of U.S. 1 in Key Largo. Expect environmental exhibitions, art vendors, native plant and children’s bicycle helmet giveaways, a silent auction, food and music by violinist Craig Sowby. Kids will enjoy activities including birdhouse building, exploring woodrat nests, face painting and other nature-inspired art projects.
Then on March 18 also from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. is the festival’s final event, a fair at the Big Pine Community Park on Sands Road on Big Pine Key. That fair will feature much of what the Key Largo one does, as well as the 5K, which starts at 8 a.m.
While just about any of the events in the Outdoor Fest are great for all ages, there are some special events created just for kids that will help them learn about their backyard ecosystems while having fun.
Kids ages 4 to 12 and their caregivers can enjoy a two-hour scavenger hunt for Key Largo wildlife on March 13 from 2 to 4 p.m. and a hands-on activity to learn about ecosystems and the food web on March 14, also from 2 to 4 p.m. On March 16 from 10 to 11:30 a.m., kids and their families can discover the Japanese art of wildlife origami, making cranes and other wildlife, and later that same day participate in a kids photography workshop.
The two free wildlife fairs— and the Fest itself— offer a roster of activities that foster an appreciation of the outdoors and the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges.
The Outdoor Fest is presented by the refuges and the Friends and Volunteers of Refuges support group. For a specific schedule of all events, go to www.favorfloridakeys.org or contact Killam at (305) 304-9625.