DUNEDIN — "Carolina Mike" Berthold decided he wanted to share his love of adventure with the world.
So in 2007, Berthold started Wet Dog Adventures, a Meetup.com group whose members convene at locations around the state — including about eight times a year at the Dunedin Marina — for kayaking trips to destinations including Caladesi Island, St. Petersburg's Shell Island and Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.
The trip might include a paddling lesson by Berthold, a yoga session, overnight camping or, for a fee, lunch. Berthold's 9-year-old small business, Carolina Mike's Kayaking Adventures, is one of several sponsors of the Meetup group and rents kayaks to members as needed.
Berthold says Wet Dog Adventures, whose 1,000 members also meet for biking and hiking trips, is just a social group. But Dunedin officials contend he's illegally using the city marina to run a business.
City staffers are proposing that commissioners this month approve a new ordinance to protect Dunedin from potential liability from outside businesses that don't have a licensing agreement with the city.
The measure would expand one already on Dunedin's books that bars commercial businesses without permits from operating on the Dunedin Causeway. Under the new rules, anyone providing a service at any city facility — from a tennis instructor giving private lessons to an ice cream truck driver selling goods at a park — would need to sign a licensing agreement.
The main concern, officials say, is safety. A licensing agreement lets the city require businesses to have insurance to cover injuries and to perform background checks on those working with children.
Businesses with licensing agreements also establish a profit-sharing deal with the city.
Parks and Recreation director Vince Gizzi said the proposed ordinance would eliminate a situation like last weekend, when an unauthorized ice cream truck parked at the city-run Starlight Concert and diverted revenue from concessions run by the city and the Kiwanis Club.
Officials also just want to keep tabs. For example, said city attorney Tom Trask, Wet Dog Adventures members who showed up at the marina last month clogged the area's limited parking spaces.
"We want to regulate them (the businesses) to make sure they comply with all the state requirements," Trask said.
Berthold admits he started Wet Dog Adventures partly so his struggling kayaking business could make extra money off of rentals. But the certified kayak instructor and guide insists that the Meetup group sessions do not constitute a business.
Wet Dog Adventures members are private citizens meeting at various sites around the state — not just Dunedin — to enjoy outdoor activities, Berthold said. Most of the roughly dozen members who come out on each trip have their own boats, so Berthold says he barely makes any money.
Outside of a $25 membership fee — which is typical for Meetup.com groups and strictly optional for Wet Dog Adventures members who want kayak and restaurant discounts — Berthold said the only financial requirements are for camp space at fee-based parks and reimbursement for food he provides.
Payments are handled online, so it's not as if he set up shop at the Dunedin Marina, he said.
Nonetheless, Berthold said he understands that the city wants to avoid lawsuits, so he's willing to purchase a permit from Dunedin as long as it doesn't cost too much. Otherwise, he said, Wet Dog Adventures will have to skip the Dunedin Marina.
"Caladesi is a top 10 beach in the United States," he said, "so it's a shame to not be able to go there (from Dunedin), but there's other ways to get there."
Reach Keyonna Summers at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153.