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Shown is a painting from the annual GeckoBall, which took place last year at the Gulfport Casino Ballroom in downtown Gulfport. This year’s GeckoFest will take place Saturday, Aug. 31, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Beach Boulevard.

GULFPORT — Celebrate the end of summer Saturday, Aug. 31, with Gulfport’s biggest event — GeckoFest. 

For the past 19 years, the city has celebrated its unofficial mascot, the gecko, by shutting down Beach Boulevard for a free family-friendly festival that runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Food, art and craft vendors line the street. 

“A lot of the local restaurants and businesses offer specials” during the street fest as well, said John Haugen, secretary of the Gulfport Merchants Chamber, which organizes the annual event.

There’s a full-line-up of entertainment including several stages for bands, and street performers ranging from acrobats, aerialists and magicians to dancers, balloon artists and costumed characters. 

“There are a lot of activities for kids,” Haugen added, “and people are encouraged to bring their pets.”

This year’s GeckoFest theme is Geckos of the Round Table, inspired by King Arthur’s court. Festival attendees are encouraged to don colorful costumes that go hand-in-hand with the theme. Those in costume — and even those not in costume — can strut their stuff during the fun walking parade around the festival. 

When GeckoFest got its start nearly two decades ago, “there was hardly anybody in Gulfport in those days,” Haugen said. “So, we thought, ‘What do we do to get people to Gulfport when it’s nice and sweaty and hot in August?’”

The street festival was an immediate success, he said. With that success, two additional events were born – the Gecko Crawl and the Gecko Ball.

This season’s Gecko Crawl, a pub crawl throughout the city’s waterfront, and the Gecko Ball were held earlier this month.

Funds raised from Gecko events benefit local non-profit organizations and community projects, Haugen said.