PINE ISLAND — Visitors to Alfred A. McKethan Park have more to do this summer than soak in the sun on the beach or play a game of beach volleyball.
A new venture by a Citrus County fitness instructor has brought watercraft rentals to the popular park for the first time.
Scott Toomey, owner of Pepper Creek Kayak Co., approached county land services director Ron Pianta with the idea of a rental stand at the park. Toomey rents paddleboats, canoes and kayaks to people eager to explore the waters off the beach.
"This is a first endeavor, and it's kind of exciting," he said.
The rentals, which started July 2, are in a trial period to gauge visitor interest and establish a benchmark for the fee Toomey will pay to the county, said Harry Johnson, recreation coordinator for the county.
Toomey charges $15 an hour for rentals, and the county now receives 20 percent of the stand's revenue.
Chuck Sierra is a Spring Hill retiree who has been coming to Pine Island since he arrived in Florida in 1990. He usually brings his own kayak to paddle in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but on a recent day simply came out to give Toomey some company. He likes the idea of other beachgoers being able to enjoy kayaking and boating like he does.
"It's definitely a positive," Sierra said.
Summer Melendez, who works at Willy's Tropical Breeze Cafe across the parking lot from the stand, agreed.
"It's not like we have stores and shops out here," Melendez said as she wiped down tables near the counter. "It's good. It's a positive thing."
Inclement weather the first couple of weekends resulted in a slow start for the business, but rentals have picked up since then. The stand operates only Thursdays through Sundays.
Toomey said that in the future he would like to give $1 of every rental to a charity for single mothers and scholarships, although he has not identified any particular charities or high schools that would be potential recipients.
Because Toomey was the first to approach the county with the idea of renting watercraft, bids were not sought, Johnson said.
"This is a pilot program for us," he said.
Toomey said he is pleased business has picked up and that he's now renting an average of 10 to 15 boats a day. He's optimistic about the future and said he plans to remain after his trial run ends this summer.
"Once people realize we're out here," he said, "things are going to take off."
Melvin Backman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6114.