Space Coast Birding Festival Organizer Neta Harris Keeps Bird’s Eye On Popular Event
By Space Coast Daily // December 31, 2016
2017 birding festival set for Jan. 25-30
ABOVE VIDEO: Stunning shots from the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.
BREVARD COUNTY • TITUSVILLE, FLORIDA – The 20th Annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival is scheduled for Jan. 25-30 at Eastern Florida State College in Titusville, and attendees are often amazed that festival Marketing & Resources Director Neta Harris personally answers the phone.
This is, after all, the age of phone messages, and since the festival is the largest in the country, no one could fault Harris for sloughing off the call to technology, but that’s not the way Harris operates.
“I talk to people from all over the world,” said Harris.
“They’re so amazed we answer the phone, but this event is a personal experience. We like to help that along in any way we can. No matter how big we get, this is still a community event.”
At 82, Neta Harris has been with the Space Coast Birding Festival since local environmental Laurilee Thompson, owner of Dixie Crossroads restaurant, gathered together a small group of like-minded folks to help promote the area’s rich ecodiversity.
At 82, Harris has been with the festival since local environmental Laurilee Thompson, owner of Dixie Crossroads restaurant, gathered together a small group of like-minded folks to help promote the area’s rich ecodiversity.
The funny thing is that Harris does not consider herself a birder, but she immediately flew with the idea of the birding festival.
From 211 attendees in 1997, the festival’s first year, the week-long event has grown to more than 5,000 participants, many of whom travel thousands of miles to participate in the 29 workshops, field trips, water adventures and other special events Harris orchestrates with the help of 90 volunteers.
The festival has become a second career for Harris, who moved to Titusville in 1970 without ever giving a thought to becoming involved in environmental pursuits. In fact, healthcare had been her primary area of interest before the birding festival took over her heart and soul.
A Memphis native, Harris earned a nursing degree that propelled her into jobs such s clinic supervision and school healthcare consulting.
She later founded Trico Home Health Services, a Space Coast leader in the rehabilitation field. The agency was the first to provide free-standing blood gas and stress-testing labs in the county.
Harris also launched Healthcare Consulting, an organization aimed at helping nursing homes, home health agencies and hospitals become technologically savvy in record-keeping, statistical capture and billing.
When retirement age arrived for Harris, she was chief operating officer for a national rehabilitation company with a presence in seven states.
Notice, there was not a bird mentioned in Harris’ healthcare career, but in 1997, Harris was volunteering at the Titusville Chamber of Commerce when the precursor of today’s festival was created. She volunteered to help with administrative tasks.
“I thought it had great potential and at the same time I was learning about the natural treasures of the area,” said Harris.
HUGE BREVARD COUNTY ECONOMIC IMPACT
When the Brevard Nature Alliance, which hosts the festival, was created in 1999, Harris was invited to become the birding festival’s executive director. She hasn’t left that perch since.
With an economic impact of more than $1.2 million for the North Brevard area, the birding festival is a lot more than just bird seed.
The event impacts local restaurants, hotels and stores as participants arrive from throughout the United States, Europe, Canada, South Africa and South America to take in the natural wonders of Brevard County.
“It is not just about birds,” said Harris.
“It’s about everything that is interesting in this community. People come to the festival and then they come back again another time. It generates a lot of awareness and promotes not just Titusville, but all the surrounding areas. Brevard County is an excellent destination for nature-based activities.”
The festival’s success has been legendary to the point that Harris and the rest of the festival team have helped hatch similar events around the country.
At the moment, Harris is enjoying a slower work pace than the 60 hours a week she puts in when the birding festival approaches in January of each year, but that doesn’t mean she is taking it easy.
Preparations got underway for this year’s festival even before the birding left town last January.
Although she calls herself a “front window” birdwatcher, Harris has gained a deep appreciation for the patience and camaraderie of the birding community and the perseverance she has discovered in the birds that visit Brevard each year.
“A bird that is so small it fits in the palm of your hand routinely flies from up north down to South America each winter and then comes back again,” she said.
“That, to me, is awesome.”
For more information log on to SpaceCoastBirdingandWildlifeFestival.org or call 321-268-5224.