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About 200 people turned out in front of City Hall to celebrate Cedar Key’s new title, Florida’s 2009 Rural Community of the Year, at an awards ceremony Feb. 3. The designation comes from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency. Opening Ceremonies were conducted by Cedar Key School’s Jr. FFA Chapter. The students demonstrated the performance that recently won them third place in regional competition. Chapter Advisor Lauren Bartholemy, an eighth-grade member, placed first in prepared public speaking at the same competition and will next compete at state level. “Our most precious natural resource is our children,” said Cedar Key Mayor Sue Colson. “They are our future.” The ceremony was emceed by 16-year-old Cedar Key School senior Caely Hibbits, who was named one of two CKS salutatorians for 2010 this week. Hibbits is also the Shark News and Yearbook editor. Samantha Beckham, a 2009 CKS graduate, sang the national anthem a capella to a silent and awed crowd. Volunteer firefighter and Cedar Key Church of Christ Minister Daniel Carswell gave the invocation. Mayor Colson spoke to guests about the community’s massive Green movement, including recycling and energy-efficient initiatives, that have been a top priority for residents and business owners. She also mentioned the Blue flag flying at City Marina, signifying a Clean Marina as designated by Florida Department of Environmental Protection. “Mixing the Green and the Blue – we are truly an Aqua-culture,” Colson said, crediting her husband, Russ, with supplying the witty comment. The day’s events were coordinated by Cedar Key resident and volunteer Andrea Dennison in conjunction with Event Committee members Rosie Cantwell, Mayor Sue Colson, Greg Lang, Pam Oakley, Commissioner Pat O’Neal, Kellie Parkin, and Tina Ryan. The Cedar Key Beacon, Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce and Cedar Key School also supported the event. Vanessa Edmunds provided the graphic designs for event publicity. The Community of the Year award does not come with a monetary prize, but visiting USDA officials took the opportunity to present the City of Cedar Key a $164,100 Rural Business Enterprise Grant to build a ramp at the Anchor Hole launch site. The City of Cedar Key and the Community Redevelopment Agency have been working to improve Anchor Hole for use by the community’s many aquaculture farmers, said CRA Director Greg Lang. “Completing the parking lot was the first step, and then the city entered an agreement with the Aquaculture Association to take care of the area,” Lang said. “Building a ramp will complete the project.” Acting USDA director for the state of Florida Joseph Mueller ceremoniously signed a giant check and presented it to Cedar Key commissioners and aquaculture leaders. “You have wonderful hospitality and great food,” Mueller said. “If that’s any indication of the future, then the sky is the limit.” Prior to the awards ceremony and check presentation, city leaders hosted a “A Taste of Cedar Key” luncheon for Cedar Key partners, some of which include Suwannee River Water Management District, Florida Parks Service, Pure Water Wilderness, and Levy County Visitors Bureau. Aides from the offices of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, U.S. Senator George LeMieux, U.S. Congresswoman Ginny Brown Waite, and State Rep. Leonard Bembry also joined local City, Water and Sewer District, and UF/IFAS extension officials, as well as key citizens and volunteers. Food for the elaborate feast, organized and decorated by Cedar Key resident and volunteer Linda Seyfert, was a combined effort by area restaurants Blue Desert Café, Island Hotel Restaurant, Island Pizzeria, Island Room, Kona Joe's Island Café, Robinson Seafood, and Tony's Seafood Restaurant. Cedar Key’s Aquaculture Association, Garden Club, Lions Club and Woman's Club also provided food, desserts and hospitality. USDA officials arrived in abundance. “We like to come in force to these events in Cedar Key – we know the food is going to be good,” Mueller said as he introduced himself and 10 other USDA representatives. Levy County Commissioners Lilly Rooks, Chad Johnson, Marsha Drew, and Chairwoman Nancy Bell attended the day’s events, as did mayors, managers and clerks of nearby municipalities Williston, Bronson, Chiefland, Otter Creek, and Yankeetown. “I love this place. I’ve been coming here since childhood,” said Levy County Commissioner Chad Johnson. “That was in the late ‘70s and it’s changed, but the city has kept its feel because of the glue that connects it as a community. There’s always a worry with change that you’ll lose what’s important, but they’ve got it figured out here.” Sue Colson thanked the USDA for its strong support in making Cedar Key a better place, and for recognizing the community’s efforts. “Everyone here knows we are number one, we will always be number one, but it’s nice for our partners to recognize it, too,” she said. The award has generated regional attention from numerous news outlets, including radio, television and daily print publications. In addition to being named Florida’s Rural Community of the Year for 2009, Cedar Key tied for Best Weekend Getaway in a vote by Florida Monthly Magazine readers in September, Cedar Key’s CLAMerica festival held in July was named by the Southeast Tourism Society as one of the Top 20 events of the Southeast, Tony’s Cedar Key Clam Chowder became World Champion when it won the international chowder competition in Rhode Island in June, and Cedar Key was voted Most Affordable Coastal Community by Coastal Living Magazine in March.