RAINA BARNETT/Alachua County Today
Chili, chili and more chili was the menu favorite at the Springs Celebration and Chili Cook Off this past Saturday. Despite rainy conditions the event drew a good crowd of chili enthusiasts.
HIGH SPRINGS – Volunteers, competitors, and chili enthusiasts gathered on the grounds of O’Leno State Park on Saturday for the annual Springs Celebration and Chili Cook Off.
Coordinated by the Friends of O’Leno, a non profit Citizen Support Organization (CSO), all proceeds from the cook off were used to support the state park.
Alachua County residents Thomas Bertucci and Raine Mincey won first place for People’s Choice. They walked away with a first place plaque and a cash prize of $100.
This was the ninth year for the celebration, which involves efforts from myriad volunteers.
Cindy Preston, park service specialist of O’Leno, has organized every Chili Cookoff.
“It was mostly CSO and Harriet Walsh who came up with the idea,” Preston said. “She is the treasurer of CSO.”
Planning such an event takes time and effort, and Preston said she has been working with a team to make the springs celebration successful.
The annual chili cook off featured a “tasting kit” that was provided to participants for $5, which consisted of sample cups, a spoon, a pencil, and a ballot to vote on the best kind of chili.
Competitors ranged from first-timers to seasoned veterans.
Different categories included “no fillers” and “fillers,” with fillers being defined as other ingredients like beans and onions.
O’Leno provided an ideal venue for music, dogs, and families to get together for a day of adventure in chili tasting.
The current state park has a rich history. The site of a 19th Century settlement, it later became a forestry training camp before opening to the public as a state park. To this day, O’Leno serves as a forestry training ground each summer.
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