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A quieter Circus McGurkis

With no space for vending and parking this year, a communal picnic is planned at Dell Holmes Park.

Published October 4, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - All aboard the Circus McGurkis - that has long been the mantra for inclusiveness and imagination at the annual St. Petersburg festival.

But for the 35th year of the eclectic event, organizers were forced to exclude vendors from selling their goods.

It's not that the festival has outgrown itself, but the longtime home of the festival, Dell Holmes Park, on the northern shore of Lake Maggiore, has undergone major improvements, squeezing out space for festival necessities like vending and parking.

Instead, organizers are planning a picnic, where people are invited to "come and be peaceful," said Lynn Carol Henderson, 56, who began her professional storytelling career at Circus McGurkis in 1973. "This gives us an opportunity to just visit with each other," she said of the event, which has drawn thousands of people and hundreds of vendors in recent years. "That hasn't happened in a while."

Renovation of the park began last year, forcing the event across town to Walter Fuller Park, 7891 26th Ave. N, for the first time.

Martha Pihaylic and her husband, Barry Knoblock, caretakers at the St. Petersburg Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, the Quaker organization that has served as longtime host of the event, said the park looked usable as recently as July.

But the multiphase improvements at the park continued.

Former vending areas have given way to a paved exercise path, picnic shelters and restrooms, and a variety of baby trees now pepper the grounds.

Work continues on a "boundless playground," a handicapped-accessible recreation area.

"We have no bones about renovating the park," said Henderson, the storyteller, "but there's no parking anymore."

Now, Pihaylic and Knoblock are returning checks and reversing PayPal transactions from vending applicants.

"That's a crying shame," said Mark "Mookie" Wilson, who has popped Mookie's Marvelous Kettle Korn at Circus McGurkis for six years. "That's the whole beauty of it, a cultural free-for-all."

"It's been hard on all of us," Knoblock said.

The scaled-back Circus McGurkis is tentatively scheduled to continue on Oct. 28 at Dell Holmes Park, 2741 22nd St. S.

A Sunday meeting at the Society of Friends will hash out more details, including the time for this year's event and possible locations for next year.

"No one has lost out," Knoblock said. "I think the community has made a great park."

[Last modified October 4, 2006, 12:28:10]

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