OLDSMAR — It was sunny and a balmy 74 degrees on a recent Saturday afternoon, but Craig and Christine Battlehorn's car was one of only two in the parking lot at Mobbly Beach Park.
And while Christine sat at the water's edge enjoying the view, Craig paced in the parking lot. He didn't have $10 to put in the parking meter, and he didn't want to receive a ticket.
"We are on our way to Sam's Club, and I asked my husband to keep an eye on the car so I could just enjoy this for a little while," Christine said. "We wish it was cheaper to come here, because we don't live that far away.''
The Battlehorns may soon get their wish. Oldsmar City Council member Gabby McGee says Mobbly Beach Park is "under-utilized,'' and she wants the city to reconsider the parking fee.
"I'd like to see the park be more welcoming to our residents as well as people who don't live in the city,'' she said.
The Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve, located along the north shoreline of Old Tampa Bay, has north and south sections. The north support area, with an entrance off Lafayette Boulevard, includes nature trails, a dog park, tennis courts, a boat ramp and a playground. Parking in this area is free.
But parking isn't free in the south support area, which includes Mobbly Beach Park and is at the end of Shore Drive. Although Oldsmar residents can purchase an annual parking pass for $2.50, all other visitors must pay $5 for weekday parking and $10 for weekend parking. In return, they have access to the small bayside beach, picnic pavilions, a walking trail with outdoor exercise equipment and a playground.
In 2006, the city updated the beach park and implemented the fee, according to Lynn Rives, the city's leisure services director.
"At the time, there was a concern that the beach was being overrun with parties and people and too much traffic,'' he said. "The fee ended up acting as a deterrent to stop a lot of those problems."
However, McGee believes the fee might be keeping people out of the park altogether. "So often when I'm there, it is empty,'' she said.
McGee brought up the parking fee issue now because the City Council soon will decide whether to create more pet-friendly areas near Mobbly Beach Park.
"We talked about emails we've received from residents who live near the park who are frustrated they can't walk their dog closer to the water,'' she said. "I thought since we were going to look at that, it just seemed like it was a good time to look at parking as well.''
Mayor Doug Bevis also is concerned about the parking fee, particularly on weekends. On a recent Saturday, he wanted to meet a friend there to go paddle boarding.
"I have a parking pass, and I was going to have to have him either park outside and drive him into the park, or I'd have to pay $10 for his car, and we were only going to paddle for an hour. So, yeah, I'd like to see it reviewed as well,'' he said.
For Craig Battlehorn, Mobbly Beach Park holds special memories. He recalled how he and his wife fell in love with Mobbly Beach Park when they were new to the area.
"We moved to Tampa from Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2004. We came here a lot then, when it wasn't $10," he said. "It's not that there shouldn't be a fee. I think a fee is fine, but it just shouldn't be so much.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4163.