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Girl Scout tradition in jeopardy

Seminole City Park, the scouts' usual holiday gathering place, might not be available this year.

By MAUREEN BYRNE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 29, 2001


SEMINOLE -- For years Girl Scouts of all ages have gathered on a December evening at Seminole City Park to sing Christmas carols and sip hot chocolate.

Many people in the community attend the annual event, which features a visit from Santa Claus.

Typically, a Girl Scout leader calls the city and asks for use of the park on a certain day. "And they say 'fine,' " said event director Suzanne Bessler. "But this year we ran into a problem."

When the Brownie troop leader asked the city for permission for this year's yule log lighting, she was surprised at the answer. She was told the city was setting policy for special events in the park, and she would have to wait until the middle or end of November for a reply.

By then it would be too late to plan the Dec. 16 event, which draws members of about 30 troops with the Shining Waters Neighborhood of the Girl Scouts of Suncoast Council, said neighborhood director Mary Watkins. The Suncoast Council covers Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando and Pasco counties.

"This came as a big surprise to us because we have done this for so long," Mrs. Watkins said. She and Mrs. Bessler worried that the 18-year-old tradition could be in jeopardy.

The Girl Scouts didn't get their usual response this year because it's not a typical year, said Seminole Recreation Director Jim Sheets. Seminole City Park, which is adjacent to City Hall on Ridge Road, reopened in July after undergoing a $1-million renovation. It's an investment the city thinks is attracting more people -- and events -- to the park.

"We have no guidelines," said Sheets, adding that there wasn't a need for them before because there wasn't a great demand for the park, which normally closes at dusk. "That's all changing now. We need to set some policy and procedures on how we're going to deal with events in the park. I think that goes with the territory of having a beautiful new park."

New rules may include charging fees for large special events, Sheets said.

The Recreation Advisory Committee will discuss special events at city parks at a workshop at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Seminole Community Library. Mrs. Bessler plans to attend.

She also paid a visit to City Council members at their meeting last week. She asked them if they could make an exception for the Girl Scouts. Mayor Dottie Reeder said the council would discuss the holiday event at a workshop after the Recreation Advisory Committee's meeting Tuesday.

Mrs. Watkins said she realizes the city needs to have regulations for its parks. "They just have to figure out what their rules are," she said. "We don't have any bad feelings."

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