County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department staff to meet with representatives of the organization about the future of its 15-year-old event
Although the 15th Annual Easter Egg Hunt & Games sponsored by the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) on March 26 was “a great success,” Treasurer Roz Hyman reported to members during their monthly meeting this week, an upcoming discussion with Sarasota County staff will determine the future of the event at Beach Access 5.
“Everybody was happy,” Hyman said of the latest Easter celebration hosted by SKVA members at Access 5. About 175 children participated, she added, noting, “Actually, I didn’t even get my one complaint this year.” Hyman was referencing the fact that, in spite of overwhelming satisfaction exhibited by the majority of participants each year, she generally fields one negative comment.
Yet, right after the March 26 event ended, Hyman explained to the 16 people at the April 5 SKVA meeting, she received a call from a member of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources staff, telling her no more Easter egg hunts would be allowed at Access 5. That employee pointed out of the access, “‘It belongs to all the people in the county,’” she continued, “and we theoretically are blocking it off from people using it that morning.”
Hyman said she told the staff member that the SKVA blocks off the parking spots for four hours, to make space for the event, but people can still use the access to reach the beach. “We have never stopped anybody from walking through,” she added.
Following that phone conversation, an SKVA officer contacted County Commissioner Al Maio — who represents Siesta Key as part of his district — Hyman indicated. Then she received a follow-up call from George Tatge, manager of beaches and water access in parks for the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department. He wanted to set up a meeting with Hyman “sometime soon [to discuss] how we can resolve the problem,” she told the SKVA members.
Regarding the March 26 event, she reiterated, “It was a fun time, and everybody was happy with it. … I don’t know what’s going to happen other than we will fight to keep [the egg hunt at Access 5].”
The Sarasota News Leader contacted Carolyn Brown, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, on April 5 to ask whether her staff had fielded any specific complaints about the SKVA event this year. Replying in an email that she was short on time because of back-to-back meetings that day, Brown affirmed that Tatge would be meeting with SKVA representatives and added, “I believe there needs to be some coordination on this event.”
Maio, who was present for the April 5 SKVA meeting, told the members, “I think the way you all handled things is exactly the way to handle it.” It is important to convey to the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources staff that the event has been going on for 15 years, he continued, and that it is “nowhere near the bird-nesting area.”
Maio was referring to the section of Siesta Public Beach where endangered snowy plovers and least terns have been nesting during spring and summer for the past several years. County staff and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office have collaborated with Sarasota Audubon volunteers to protect the birds and their chicks.
The SKVA even gave Sarasota Audubon members space for a table at the Easter event this year to talk about the beach-nesting birds, Hyman added. “And they were distributing information [to the public] and they were very happy,” she noted of the Audubon representatives.
Maio said the SKVA members also should emphasize that while they may take over the parking spaces at Access 5 for the various activities, they “never, not for a minute, deny access to the beach by anybody and everybody.”
He suggested they also stress the participation of other groups in the event, including Sarasota Audubon.
The Sheriff’s Office routinely sends a Mounted Patrol team, for example, Hyman noted.
“And we get 175 kids who are the children of residents or the children of visitors or who are visiting Grandma or Grandpa,” Maio continued. “The picture really begins to clear up” with all that information.
“We’re done by noon,” SKVA board member Russell Matthes, co-owner of the Daiquiri Deck restaurants, pointed out.
The more details, the better
“I know it’s awkward,” Maio told the SKVA members. “I know you get very angry.” But he advised them to be ready with lots of details.
“I immediately told [Tatge] every one of the points that you made,” Hyman responded to Maio.
SKVA members also need to make their case to other staff members with Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources, Maio continued, because Tatge will be retiring at the end of May.
“Thank you for your efforts,” SKVA President Wendall Jacobsen told Maio.
Then Michael Shay, president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) and the SKVA’s liaison to the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. — which oversees the upkeep of the Village — asked whether Access 5 is large enough for the Easter event.
“It’s just perfect in size, actually,” Hyman replied, adding that it has adequate room for the egg hunt and the other activities.
SKVA Vice President Mark Smith explained that the children are divided into groups of 30 to 35, resulting in six or seven egg hunts.
Shay then pointed out that when he spoke with Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources staff earlier this year about public parking at beach accesses as an overflow for Village parking, staff told him, “Access 7 is considered a through street, and they really have no jurisdiction over it. It’s not like the other accesses, so just keep that in the back of the mind.”
Even if the SKVA members utilized all the space not used by vehicles at Access 7, Hyman told him, “we’ve got roughly 200 kids. I would hate to have it at a place where there are cars moving around.”
“I was suggesting taking over the whole access,” Shay replied.
Access 5 “is perfect, size-wise,” Hyman responded. “It works best of all.”
Moreover, Smith pointed out, Access 7 historically has been closer to another area preferred by the beach-nesting birds, which would raise objections from Sarasota Audubon.