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Sarasota Park uses pilot program to fund improvements

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Posted: Saturday, May 10, 2014 5:49 pm

SARASOTA, FLA. - No one can describe Ted Sperling Park as a hidden gem. The park located at South Lido Beach has become a world renowned destination for kayaking and paddle boarding.

“It is beautiful, look at it. Either here or Bird Key we go. If I'm taking my kayak I go to Bird Key but here, paddle boarding is the best,” said resident Bryan Bratsburg.

“It provides a very unique biology that really within the shadow of downtown Sarasota is this world class venue,” said George Tatge, Sarasota County Beaches Manager.

The main attraction here is the mangrove tunnels that give visitor a chance to see nature in a unique way. Eleven companies use the park as a launching point for their customers which mean, it can get rather busy. During the height of the busy season, 1400 vessels were launched from the park every week.

Ranger Pete Garcia is the only park ranger in the county and works full time at Ted Sperling Park.

“The main responsibility is over seeing the commercial activity of our commercial outfitters and tour operators.”

Garcia also works as a traffic cop helping to manage the 24 designated parking spots in the park.

“With directing and having people park in proper areas we have been able to manage even through this high season with the limited places that we have.”

The addition of a full time park ranger and other recent improvements made to the park are possible because of a county pilot program. In order for companies to do business in the park they have to buy medallion from the county for each vessel they use on park property. Each medallion costs $500 a year.

“They were charging us $500 for a kayak per year with no break down for the season,” said Bob Nikla, owner of I Kayak Sarasota. He says businesses owners were in favor of some type of usage fee but he is not happy with a flat annual fee because his business is seasonal.

“I can’t afford to buy 40 kayak [medallions] at $500 a piece for the year when I only need them for 38 days.”

 Laural Kaiser is the owner of Island Style Watersports and says the pilot program has made the venders more aggressive so they can recover the cost of spending 500 dollars a year per boat.

“And by making it so expensive while they thought that would limit the number of people that signed up it really didn’t so much.”

160 medallions have been purchased for boats this year. While business owners think the pilot program needs some tweaking, residents who use the park like the changes.

“I love it because it feels a little safer out here,” said resident Tammy Hillard.

The county will review the pilot program at the end of August and make any necessary changes at that time.

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