Sand sculpting contest expected to draw a crowd

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SARASOTA, Fla. - The 3rd annual Siesta Key Crystal Classic Sand Sculpting contest kicked off Thursday. But the contest is known for attracting large crowds, and when you have thousands of people traveling to a fairly small island, parking is bound to be a problem.

Contest organizers say the spots in the Siesta Key Beach public parking lot will fill up fast this weekend. And while the empty spots at the condo buildings across the street may look appealing when things get busy during the contest, don't be tempted -- the warning signs are everywhere.

“What we do is post a security person out on the entrance to the property so that cars who are trying to illegally park are turned away,” says Rebecca Lobzun at the Crescent Royale.

“We have about 880 spaces out at the public beach -- those fill up fast. And then there's a lot of beach access points out here on Siesta Key, and part of the thing to remember is the event is set up to churn. It's open from 9am-5pm, but most people aren't out there for the full 8 hours,” says Kevin Cooper of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce.

But with 35,000-40,000 people expected, organizers say they've made some special arrangements to make sure everyone can get to the key quickly and easily.

Cooper says that due to the large crowds, festival organizers have arranged for shuttles to get people on and off the key as easily as possible. “Now for those folks who don't want to come out here on the key and try to look for parking, Phillippi Estate Mansion is open Saturday and Sunday from 9am-5pm. The first shuttle leaves right around 8:30, last shuttle departs around 3:30.”

If you plan on parking at Phillipi Estate (5500 South Tamiami Trail) and taking the shuttle to the beach, it's $5 for the day.

The Siesta Key Crystal Classic runs through Monday, and admission is $5. Judging of the sculptures will take place from 12:30-1:30pm on Sunday, and the awards ceremony will take place at 3pm. The sculptures will remain on display until 5pm Monday.