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Club hooks fishing pier for park

A 170-foot fishing pier in Bobby Hicks Park was built by the Tampa Chapter of Safari Club International.

By JAY CRIDLIN
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 21, 2002


As a hunter, John Ventimeglia has bagged an black bear in Montana, a red stag in Scotland, and an elephant in Africa.

Now, as a fisherman, he can snag a snook in Bobby Hicks Park.

Ventimeglia was on hand Wednesday for the dedication of a 170-foot-long fishing pier in Bobby Hicks Park that was paid for and built by members of the Tampa Chapter of Safari Club International.

"This is the second dock that we've built," said Ventimeglia, the club's secretary. "There's supposed to be some good fishing in that lake."

The Safari Club, a big-game hunting club that pays huge fees to hunt exotic animals around the globe, built the pier in conjunction with the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as part of an effort to lure fishermen to the park.

"We have a saying in the business," said Paul Thomas, the urban ponds project manager. "If you build it, they will come."

The commission created blueprints for the pier and paid about $6,500 to put in the pilings, and the Safari Club ponied up $5,000 to buy the wood. About 25 club members spent about a day building it to specifications -- about $12,000 worth of labor, Thomas estimates.

The Safari Club and fish commission had teamed up on another pier in 1996 in Al Lopez Park, a venture so successful it encouraged the groups to try it again.

"We didn't even have that particular pier completed," Thomas said, "and we had people lined up with fishing rods in their hands waiting to fish."

The Safari Club has drawn criticism from animal rights groups for what what Ventimeglia calls "conservation efforts" -- high-priced trips to Africa and elsewhere to legally hunt everything from lions to rhinos.

"People need to know that we don't just go out and shoot Bambi," Ventimeglia said. "The name Safari Club indicates mass murders of animals, and that's not really the case."

The pier is one of a number of club projects. Members also donated a trailer for the fish commission's traveling supply of fishing equipment for the public.

At the dedication, 75 children from the on-site Boys and Girls Club and Mangrove Marcus day camp were loaned rods and reels from the trailer to test out the new pier.

"It's nice because you don't have to trudge through the mud and everything to get here," said 11-year old Blake Petty, a Mangrove Marcus camper.

Commission spokesman Gary Morse said the pier will give children a chance to interact with nature.

"These kids, particularly in an urban environment, are not really having a lot of contact with the outdoors, and the concepts of conservation," he said. "It's a perfect spot to put a fishing pier and educate people to those values."

-- Reach Jay Cridlin at 226-3374 or cridlin@sptimes.com.

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