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Fort Myers celebrates the birthday of Thomas Edison with a big celebration.

Float at the Edison Festival of Light
Float at the Edison Festival of Light
Carl Slowata

In 1885, famous inventor, Thomas Alva Edison first visited Florida and purchased property to build a vacation home. His home, completed in 1887 and dubbed "Seminole Lodge", served as a winter retreat and place of relaxation until Edison's death in 1931. Thus, over a hundred years ago, Edison adopted Fort Myers as his winter home.

Each year, Fort Myers celebrates her most famous resident with more than a fortnight of activities and events in his honor. The Festival of Light is without a doubt Fort Myers’ premier event and it’s frugal fun for the whole family. Check the festival website for a complete list of festival events from January 25, 2014 through February 22nd. But the real excitement takes place on Saturday, February 15th (Edison’s birthday is on the 11th). The party starts at noon with live entertainment, food and other vendors in Centennial Park along the river.

If running is your thing, you can sign up for the 5K run sponsored by the Fort Myers Track Club. Starting time is 5:45 p.m. Staging for the event will be at Centennial Park under the large tent. This is a flat & fast course (USATF Certified Course FL10002EBM) that has had an American Open Record and Masters World Record run on it. Check out the course map. The starting line will be on Edwards Drive at the intersection of Jackson Street. To save money on the entry fee, be sure to sign up by February 10th.

The Grand Parade (the main event) starts at 7:00 p.m. and ends with a fireworks display after dark. The Grand Parade is not just a small, local parade, it's a real world-class celebration. With dozens of intricately constructed floats, carefully designed demonstrations and (of course) marching bands from all around the region, this two hour long parade is a fitting tribute to Fort Myers’ favorite son that’s guaranteed to delight and entertain you.

The Festival of Light is not only one of Fort Myers’ favorite annual events it’s also its most frugal one. The activities and parade are free. If you want to get the best seats in the house, you can pay $10 to rent a “street seat” along Edwards Drive (across from Centennial Park). The seats are provided by local charity and non-profits, so it’s all for a good cause. But the parade can be watched from anywhere along the parade route for free and you can bring your own chair.

Parking is a challenge, especially if you come late, but the city provides flat-rate all-day “event parking” at the city’s parking garages for only $4, and metered parking doesn’t apply on Saturdays. Don’t wait until the last minute, though. Many streets are unavailable for on-street parking to accommodate the parade route.

Draw a big red circle around February 15th. It is definitely a “don’t miss” event. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it won’t empty your wallet!