Cattle drive to follow Okeechobee parade Saturday; Speckled Perch Festival and rodeo this weekend

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee, “the Speckled Perch Capital of the World,” will host the 54th Annual Speckled Perch Festival March 9 and 10 in Flagler Park. This year’s festival parade will feature a cattle drive, sponsored by the Okeechobee Cattlemen’s Association.

On Saturday, a cattle drive will follow the Speckled Perch Parade, to remind spectators of the area’s history, and promote the Cowtown Rodeo. Pictured above, to celebrate the Day of the Cowboy in 2009, the Okeechobee Cattlemen’s Association drove cattle through downtown Okeechobee. Lake Okeechobee News/Katrina Elsken.

“We’re trying to get enthusiasm back for the rodeo,” explained Dudley Kirton of the Okeechobee Cattlemen’s Association (OCA). He said the cattle drive will be at the end of the Speckled Perch Festival parade on Saturday. The parade starts at 10 a.m.

Fifty head of cattle will be herded by members of the OCA. The number of cowboys might match or even outnumber the cows.

“We’re trying to get a lot of the Cattlemen’s Association to ride with us,” Mr. Kirton said.

The cattle drive, like the parade, will start near Aldi’s on Parrott Avenue (U.S. 441), travel north on Parrott Avenue to the intersection of State Road 70, and then west on SR 70 to the Country Cooler. The cattle will then be loaded on trailers to return to the range. The cattlemen hope the visual reminder of Okeechobee County’s cattle industry will inspire more folks to attend the rodeo.

The Speckled Perch Festival is the oldest annual celebration in Okeechobee. The first festival was held in 1965 and included a fish fry in the park. The festival tradition continues today, and while there will be plenty of festival food choices, you won’t find speckled perch on the menu. Speckled perch is a game fish. Because it is not commercially harvested, the Florida Department of Health will not allow speckled perch to be served at public events. For tasty catfish, look for the Buckhead Ridge Volunteer Fire Department’s booth.

The festival in Flagler Park in downtown Okeechobee will be open Saturday at 9 a.m. The parade will be at 10 a.m. with the cattle drive following the parade. On Sunday, the festival opens at 10 a.m. Both days, the festival will feature live entertainment, children’s activities and arts and crafts booths.

The Cowtown Rodeo, a Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA)-sanctioned event, is set for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, in the historic grandstand Cattlemen’s Arena, 1885 U.S. 441 North.

On Friday night, March 8, the rodeo starts at 6 p.m. On Saturday, March 9 and Sunday, March 10, the rodeo starts at 2 p.m.

Gates for the Friday night rodeo open at 5 p.m.; and gates for the Saturday and Sunday rodeos open at 1 p.m.

All rodeos start with the mutton bustin’ (in which youngsters attempt to ride sheep), followed by the Grand Entry flag ceremony to honor the rodeo sponsors and arena sponsors.

Rodeo events include bull riding, bareback bronc riding, saddle bronc riding, calf roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing.

Rodeo admission is $18 in advance and $20 at the gate. Kids ages 6 to 12 have a $5 admission cost, and kids under 6 are free.

Tickets can be purchased at Eli’s Western Wear in Okeechobee, or online at

Seating is covered and performances are rain or shine.

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