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Florida is H2O: The Water State Festival looks to protect Florida’s springs

From a refreshing drink in the hot Florida sun to the makeup of every living thing, The Water State Festival hopes to show Floridians the pivotal role water plays in their lives.

Play Hard Florida’s inaugural The Water State Festival will happen on April 15 from noon to 6 p.m. at Depot Park and will feature a variety of water-themed festivities and a new art exhibition. All of the proceeds from the event will go to Florida Springs Institute and Current Problems, two local organizations that protect Florida’s waters and springs.

“The purpose of the festival is to really make people stop and realize that it’s our waters that define our lifestyle, economy and quality of life here in Florida,” Play Hard Florida's Carmine Oliverio said. “Through the event, I think people will realize how important it is to not just celebrate but also protect our Florida waters.”

Oliverio said this festival has been in the works for the past few years, but organizers had to put it off because of COVID-19.

However, when planning to put on the festival for 2023, he said it was essential to keep the same beneficiaries from the canceled event because of the amazing work they do for the community and environment.

“The success I see in their work is pretty much what it boils down to,” he said. “I want them to have the resources to do even more.”

He said he has a long history with Current Problems. More than 20 years ago, Oliverio moved to Gainesville as a student and Current Problems was the first organization he started working with. From scuba diving to cleanups on the Santa Fe River, he did it all to help clean up the springs.

“They are the kind of brand to get your hands dirty,” he said.

Despite Oliverio’s past involvement, Nicole Llinás, Current Problems executive director, said this is the first time Current Problems and Play Hard Florida have collaborated on a major event.

Llinás said the organization is a nonprofit that specializes in large-scale cleanups and tracking debris in waterways. Although picking up plastic bottles is important, she said the group makes it a point to remove other larger items, such as car tires, that can leave toxic and hazardous materials.

Last year, Current Problems collected over 55,000 pounds of trash, 63% of which was recycled. Instead of just throwing it all away, she helped create a second home for the waste away from the landfill. By working with local artists, the debris gets turned into sculptures and other forms of metallic art.

She said the money that Current Problems receives from the festival will go toward the organization’s cleanup and debris removal programs. No matter the size of the contribution, she knows every dollar helps in a big way.

“For every $10 that's donated to our organization, we're able to remove 75 pounds of trash, which is an incredible rate of return in terms of investment,” she said.

Play Hard Florida has also partnered with the Cade Museum to create an art exhibition titled “The State of Water,” which attendees of The Water State Festival will be able to visit for free. The exhibition will be available at the museum from April 13 to April 30 for an admission fee. The proceeds collected from the exhibition will go to the beneficiaries of the festival.

The art show will feature several water-themed and inspired creations that were made by local artists. Oliverio said the goal of the exhibition is to show how water is part of people’s everyday lives and the different states of the liquid.

From water photography to nature-related crafts, there will be a wide display of items for people to look at. Festival goers will have the opportunity to interact with vendors and agencies like the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department that will teach people about water-themed science. Most importantly, guests will be able to meet and greet a live mermaid.

Merrillee Jipson, owner of Rum 138, said she will be at the festival as a vendor and will display the latest technology in paddling and canoeing.

She said this is the first time she has worked with Play Hard Florida, but she’s known Oliverio for years from similar events.

So when she heard he was creating his own festival, she knew she had to attend.

“It's a little bit of a stretch for us to go to Gainesville,” she said. “But for Carmine, we're willing to do this.”

She said she is grateful for events like these and the organizations that attend. Not only do they help the environment, but clean water helps her business, too

“Our customers prefer to be paddling on clear water that doesn't look murky or contaminated,” she said. “Florida Springs Institute and Current Problems do a great job.”

Oliverio said his underlying goal with the festival is to show people why Florida should be known as the Water State, not the Sunshine State.

In an article on Play Hard Florida's website, he argued that water has a bigger impact on Floridians than the sun.

“Sure, we can value the sun, but it's a hundred million miles away,” Oliverio said. “We can't control it, we can't protect it, but you know, we've got these beautiful waters lapping at our feet, and at the end of the day, that's what matters.”

Miguel is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.