CRESTVIEW — Local organizations are invited to Florida’s 500th birthday bash next year. Viva Florida 500 commemorates the settling of America’s first European communities five centuries ago and local organizers want to be sure north county groups are part of the celebration.


CRESTVIEW — Local organizations are invited to Florida’s 500th birthday bash next year. Viva Florida 500 commemorates the settling of America’s first European communities five centuries ago.



“Viva Florida 500 is a statewide celebration,” Okaloosa Library Cooperative coordinator Vicky Stever said. “This is an event nobody else in the United States can claim.” she added, noting both Pensacola and St. Augustine claim to be the country’s oldest cities.



How each county chooses to participate in Viva Florida 500 is up to local organizers, Stever said. Opportunities include sharing local history and cultural events at www.vivaflorida.org, putting locally significant artifacts in the Okaloosa County time capsule and starting a local “500 Garden” to honor astate historic figure.



“The end result should be to bring a greater awareness of the history and culture of Okaloosa County,” Stever said while addressing the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce community calendar workshop on Oct. 15.



“We need to brand the events we’re already going to do in 2013 as Viva Florida events,” she said, suggesting adding a cultural or historical component to activities to qualify them for the calendar. “That’s pretty easy to do because just about anything you do could fit under that banner — except maybe a church bake sale.”



Stever said the north county region could be a prime area for participating in the “Next Exit History” program, which puts points of historic interest on a mobile phone app for motorists. The site already includes Florida state parks and historic marker locations.



Though the north county isn’t as big a tourist draw as the south end, families wanting historic tourism on a road trip have a lot to discover in the area, workshop organizer Rae Schwartz said.



“Somebody driving their family down I-10 might use the app to make their road trip more interesting,” Schwartz said. “As they come to Crestview’s exit, the app could direct them to the Carver-Hill Museum or the Baker Block Museum.”



Area schools, museums and libraries can apply to host a 500 Garden of native wildflowers as part of the Viva Florida project, Stever said. The garden must be dedicated to a historic Florida figure — “Such as (former Congressman) Bob Sikes,” reference librarian Sandra Dreaden said — and applications must be received by Dec. 1 at www.xaviercortada.com/?page=FLOR500_gardens.



Another available resource is Florida Memory, a State Library and Archives of Florida photographic collection of more than 160,000 historic images. The Crestview library already participates in Florida Memory, Dreaden said. Visit www.floridamemory.com to access the collection.



Email archives@dos.state.fl.us to learn how to donate photos to the collection.



Stever said the possibilities for local participation in Viva Florida 500 are almost unlimited.



“It’s wide open and we’d like to do as many things as we can,” she said, encouraging interested residents to attend a planning meeting at the Fort Walton Beach Library at 10 a.m. Oct. 25.



To get creative juices flowing, Stevers said, “Rewrite the lyrics to ‘Viva Las Vegas,’ because that’s what I think of every time I hear Viva Florida.”