Whether you are a Cajun cooking or blues fan, or enjoy seeing canine competitions, the Shell Factory and Nature Park will host two big events this upcoming weekend - Gumbo Fest on Sunday, Jan. 29m and World DockDog Qualifiers Jan. 27 through Jan. 29.
Thousands of revelers have come out to the Shell Factory's Annual Gumbo Fest, an event that has benefitted thousands of Lee County students.
Now in its 10th year, Gumbo Fest will take place on Sunday, Jan. 29, from noon to 5 p.m. It is The Shell Factory & Nature Park's largest event of the year.
High flying labrador Jasmine trains for the DockDog World Qualifiers.
"Due to the current economic times, the event will include free admission this year," said Shell Factory Marketing Director Rick Tupper.
The annual Cajun celebration includes live entertainment, children's activities, beads and New Orleans-style gumbo.
"This year we are making two kinds of gumbo, chicken and seafood gumbo," Tupper said.
Proceeds benefit the Nature Park Environmental Education Foundation, and a unique program spearheaded by Shell Factory owners Pamela and Tom Cronin Sr.
"Gumbo Fest is a fun time for a great cause," said Tom Cronin, Sr. "One hundred percent of the proceeds benefit local students through school field trips. With tightened budgets, field trips for students have been cut dramatically. I want to ensure that today's children are afforded the same joy that my children experienced. The smile on a child's face of being able to see live animals from zebras to camels as well as experiencing natural history through our collection of specimens from around the world is priceless."
"This year's Gumbo Fest coincides with the Shell Factory's 75th Anniversary," said Vice President Pamela J. Cronin.
Headliner Cracker Blues will be back by popular demand, along with The Certified Band, new this year.
Also back will be the festival's popular Voodoo punch and grilled hamburgers and hot dogs for those gumbo-shy.
The Fun Park will be open, with the bumper boats and other children's activities. "We are also giving free admission to children under 12 to the Nature Park that day, accompanied by a parent paid admission," Tupper added.
SUBHEAD: DockDogs World Qualifiers
The DockDogs World Qualifier, hosted by Aqua Dog Sports (the local chapter that practices at The Canine Sports Park at the Shell Factory) will hold events from Friday, Jan. 27 through Sunday, Jan., 29 - the same day as the Gumbo Fest.
This is a "high flying" swimming and retrieving fun event, said Tom Cronin Sr.
"It is a DockDog sanctioned event," said Vicki Tighe, president and owner of Aqua Dog Sports. "Aqua Dog Sports is now a sanctioned facility with DockDogs and home of Suncoast DockDogs, the Florida affiliate. What that means is that we are the only facility in the state of Florida, one of the first to go into a sanctioned facility event."
The event runs from noon Friday, Jan. 27, through 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29. If you attend the Shell Factory's Gumbo Fest, you can also go view the dogs in the competition.
"We're expecting people from all over the state of Florida, Texas and North Carolina."
Anyone is welcome to register or pre-register for the event at dockdogs.com.
"What the dogs will be doing is in three to four different categories," said Tighe. "First is Big Air, where they run and jump from the dock and the jump is judged for distance.
"Second, Extreme Vertical - there is a bumper from eight feet out over the water and the dog must jump the starting height and eight feet out and retrieve the bumper."
The third is called Speed Retrieve, where the dogs run 20 feet off the dock, swim the distance of the pool (40 feet) and retrieve a bumper.
The last is "Iron Dog" where a canine competes in all events.
"I've been doing DockDogs with my dog since 2006," Tighe said. "It's the greatest sport to do with your dog and meet friends from around the country that all have a common interest."
DockDogs Worldwide has been around for 12 years, she said.
Dogs and their owners practice at Doggy Heaven, known as The Canine Sports Park at the Shell Factory. It's a 40-foot long dock and the pool is 41 feet by 21 feet, four feet deep and holds 28,000 gallons of water.
"We're inviting the public to experience this exciting canine sport. All dogs, any breed, any size are welcome to the sport, as long as they like the water and like to retrieve," she said.
The dogs must be at least six months old to compete.
For more information, go to suncoastdockdogs.com or email to email@example.com.
Practice for club members is currently being held Sundays at 1:30 p.m.
Spectator dogs are welcome, but they cannot come into the kennel area, and must be on a leash.
For more information on Gumbo Fest, call 995-2141 or go to shellfactory.com.
For information on DockDog events, go to suncoastdockdogs.com.