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Clearwater braces for revelry

It's March, and that means it is time for that annual ritual on Clearwater Beach known as spring break.

According to Clearwater police, who gauge the timing of this event by vacation schedules of area college and high schools, spring break officially began Friday and ends April 8.

Police spokesman Wayne Shelor said as many as 30,000 students are expected to make the pilgrimage this year to Clearwater Beach, a popular destination for the revelers. Combined with the tourists and local beachgoers, the city's population will swell to its highest point of the year.

"We will be assigning extra officers to deal with the sheer number of people," Shelor said this week. "It will be the worst on the weekends. But, historically, our only problem of consequence is traffic."

The Police Department's traffic enforcement team and police aides will be shuffled to Clearwater Beach to augment traffic control. He said police may block off some streets and try alternate traffic patterns to deal with the influx of cars.

Troublesome on good days, finding a parking spot during spring break will be a nightmare. Clearwater Beach has about 2,000 public parking spaces.

During good weather in spring break in 1992 and 1993, more than 50,000 cars went to Clearwater Beach daily.

"That is the crux of our problem," Shelor said. "We are used to dealing with it and don't expect this year to be any different."

Agents from the state Alcoholic Beverage and Tobacco Division will help police handle underage drinking violations, but he said that has not been a major spring break complaint in the past.

"Any problems we've had were always isolated," Shelor said. "As a whole, these young people have been well-behaved."