After 12 years of celebrating Celtic heritage, the Celtic Festival will not be held this year, but local support could bring the event back in 2014, founder Steve Serneels said.
Serneels blamed the cancellation on poor finances due to lack of support and attendance, particularly since moving in 2011 from Zephyr Park in Zephyrhills to the Pioneer Florida Museum in Dade City.
"It's a financial risk every year trying to pull it off," Serneels said. "We want to get it back to where it's a strong event."
The Zephyrhills Celtic Festival began in Zephyr Park in Zephyrhills in 2000. From a few small Celtic vendors, dancers and pipe bands meeting around the Wickstrom Bandstand, the festival grew into a two-day event, adding Highland games, a Celtic canine parade and show and a children's area. At the height of its popularity it drew thousands, filling local hotels. Visitors stayed as far away as Fletcher Avenue in Tampa, Serneels said.
In the early days it was a free festival, but as expenses grew an admission fee became necessary. Zephyr Park is not fenced in, so organizers tried erecting construction barrier fencing, but many people would simply step over the fencing to enter the event without paying.
In 2011, the festival moved to the Pioneer Florida Museum because the city of Zephyrhills was unable to provide metal barriers for fencing at Zephyr Park because of budget limitations.
With a fence and plenty of parking (another weakness of the Zephyr Park location), it seemed the problems would be solved, Serneels said.
But attendance was not strong in the festival's first year at the museum. Last year, organizers made it a one-day festival to cut expenses, but attendance was still lacking, Serneels said.
The organizers decided they needed to take a break this year, he said.
"It didn't work out for us at the Pioneer Museum so we had to locate a new venue," Serneels said. "We really struggled financially because of last year, and because of that, and not having a venue ready to go to, we thought we would take time out and find a good venue to have it."
Serneels said Zephyr Park was always a favorite for Celtic Festival participants and some parties have expressed an interest in bringing it back to Zephyrhills.
"What we liked about Zephyrhills was the park itself," Serneels said. "A lot of our vendors and (Highland game) competitors said it was their favorite event in the state and some said anywhere. I also liked it because the reason I started the event was to bring this kind of event to Zephyrhills."
If it is going to return to Zephyrhills, it will need local support — both sponsors and volunteers, Serneels said.
"What we're looking for is (a location) … where there is strong local support," he said. "We need people that are part of the community that want it to happen and will be a resource to make it happen. It's a volunteer event so it can't continue without people that are local that want it to be there."
The other option is to leave east Pasco County.
Serneels said he would be interested to know whether there is support for the Celtic Festival to return. Those interested in sharing their opinion can visit hofcf.org and sign the guestbook or email Serneels at firstname.lastname@example.org.