Madeira Beach student stands up for endangered Snack Shack

A sixth-grader works to save the longtime landmark, which is slated for demolition.

Published April 10, 2007

MADEIRA BEACH - Dozens of anxious residents waited as the City Commission debated the fate of an 80-year-old wooden cabin on Gulf Boulevard on a recent Tuesday.

Noticeably missing from the crowd in City Hall during the vote was activist Kaitlyn Chalke, who has been working the past two months to ensure that the cabin stays intact.

Kaitlyn had left the meeting early to get back to school. The protester whom city officials have come to know as a strong-minded, articulate adversary is a 12-year-old sixth-grader at Madeira Beach Middle School.

The City Commission ultimately decided to demolish the beachfront cabin widely referred to as the Snack Shack. Despite the initial setback in her first clash with City Hall, Kaitlyn is as hopeful as ever.

"If you really believe in something, no matter how bureaucratic the process is, or how big of a deal it is, you keep doing it until it is finished," she said.

The fight to save the Snack Shack is part of an ongoing conflict over how the land at Archibald Memorial Beach Park, where the shack sits, can be used.

Alex Archibald, whose grandfather helped donate the land to the National Park Service in the 1930s, has argued that the original land deed prohibits commercial use. Since the city has managed the land, the shack has been used as a concession stand selling beach gear and sodas.

When the city initially decided to demolish the building, partly to prevent lawsuits, Kaitlyn stepped in.

In two weeks, she collected 200 signatures in support of the shack. She has tried to arrange a concert by Panic! At the Disco, an MTV-friendly rock group, to help raise awareness.

As an aspiring architect, she said she wants to keep the shack around so future generations can appreciate its history.

For Kaitlyn, an honor student who already has her future planned out she wants to attend California Polytechnic State University's top-ranked architecture program, the shack campaign has been a quick initiation into local politics. She and her father moved to Madeira Beach six months ago.

"Politicians can definitely make issues a lot more complicated than they should be," she said.

"This has become a lightning rod issue for the community," said Eddie Lee, chairman of the Kiwanis of Gulf Beaches Foundation, who took up Kaitlyn's battle cry after city officials said they could not allow a 12-year-old to manage the shack.

Lee and Kaitlyn are now circulating a petition that would place the shack's future before voters. They need 833 signatures to get the ordinance on the ballot.

But the city already has set aside $5,300 to raze the building.

City Commissioner Nancy Oakley is Kaitlyn's neighbor and the only city official to vote in favor of keeping the shack Tuesday.

"She is going to go very far in life," she said of Kaitlyn.

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

On the web

The Snack Shack

To learn more about the effort to save the Snack Shack at Archibald Memorial Beach Park, check out www.myspace.com/saveoursnackshack.