Ravine Gardens in bloom for Azalea Festival

Historic City News reporters visited the first day of the 66th Annual Florida Azalea Festival today and special wagon tours of the Ravine Gardens State Park — all part of the celebration of spring that comes to downtown Palatka and Memorial Park.

This year’s events, going on through Sunday, include the 2012 Azalea Beauty Pageant, arts and crafts vendors, food, entertainment and other activities. For details, go to www.flazaleafest.com

Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News staff photographer

Events scheduled for Sunday, March 4th

Vendors, Children’s Area, and Activities – 10:00 a.m. St. Johns Ave.
North East Florida Humane Society “Pet Show” – 10:00 a.m. Amphitheater
Outdoor Show – 10:00 a.m.
• New R.V.’s boats, etc. St. Johns Ave./Riverfront
Riverfront Car show – 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Azalea Entertainment – 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.
• Stage 1- Putnam county Courthouse
• Stage 2 – Corner of 6th and St. Johns Ave.
• Stage 3 – 700 block of St. Johns Ave.
Florida Azalea Bicycle Ride
• 1:00 p.m. Putnam County School Board parking Lot
• East Palatka Loop 32 Mile ride
Florida Azalea Festival T-Shirts – Available at:
• Angela’s Boutique – 726 St. Johns Ave. Palatka
• Palatka Welcome Center – 900 St. Johns Ave.
T-Shirts will be available before and during the Festival

An unseasonably warm winter caused many of the azaleas to bloom early; many started in November. The Ravine Gardens State Park (admission is $5 for a carload up to 8 and includes parking) still boasts an abundance of the pink, fuchsia, white, red, and amber annual shrubs that have been a Palatka landmark since the 1930’s, and before.

Post-depression era WPA projects, designed to infuse the local economy with federal money for public projects by putting able-bodied Americans back to work, included the ravine. Nearly 100,000 azaleas were planted at the state park, another 100,000 dogwoods, palm trees, and other flowering trees.

According to Park Ranger Jim Mutchie, who narrated our wagon tour which even included a surprise visit from baseball legend Babe Ruth, nearly 6,000 people worked on the irrigation, landscape and fortification of the natural ravine — now, the park is maintained by a staff of six.

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