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$1 a car beach fee kicks in

There was a bit of bellyaching, a few groans and a handful of grimaces as motorists for the first time began paying a $1 fee Saturday to park at Alfred A. McKethan Park. But mostly they just paid.

"What's a dollar?" said Spring Hill resident Jeannie Fitzgerald as she walked along the narrow beach, her two children in tow.

"A dollar a head, that would stop them, but not a dollar a car," said local resident Sylvia Scoby.

"It don't bother me in the least, man," added Dan Staat, as he sat in his 1981 Datsun, blasting the surrounding cars with loud ZZ Top while waiting for the clouds to burn off.

Hernando County commissioners approved the $1 parking fee last month to pay for a parking attendant at the busy beach _ the only public beach in the county _ and possibly cut down on the area's traffic problem.

By 10 a.m. Saturday, it wasn't clear whether it was the dire weather predictions or the $1 fee that kept the number of visitors slightly lower than normal for a Saturday.

"Usually this park would have been filled by now," said Ruthann Barbieri, who works the concession stand. "Kids should be playing soccer and volleyball," she added, motioning to the empty volleyball field.

The Commission decided to charge the $1 until Sept. 30, then see how well the program worked.

But most beachgoers, especially those who live in the county year-round, said the fee should be charged year-round.

"In the winter you can't get a parking spot; there are too many snowbirds," said Josie Amodeo of Spring Hill, who was taking in the sun with her 4-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.

"I don't like it when it's crowded."