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Maintenance is a team sport for these women

Laurel Waters loves to operate the backhoe and drive the tractor around the Treasure Island Golf, Tennis & Recreation Center _ but she won't touch bugs.

One of three women who maintain the grounds at the park, Waters is especially leery of mole crickets.

"Yuck!" she says emphatically.

Mowing grass, planting trees or spraying pesticides on the golf course is no problem for the 40-year-old former physical education teacher and landscaper. She has worked for the city for 2{ years, originally for its beautification program.

This week, she has been helping replace the irrigation system at the Paradise Island park.

Crew chief Troy Palmer, 29, says his staff has a special talent for details. The all-female team takes care to make the park not only clean but beautiful, he said.

"Women are beauty-minded," worker Sandi Seacrist said. "We care about the place, and it's not just a job."

The park has a clubhouse, parking lot, eight tennis courts, two basketball courts, a playground, picnic pavilions and a nine-hole golf course.

The maintenance team takes care of the mowing, spraying and planting and the daily task of replacing the Har-Tru on the tennis courts.

Palmer said he is good at handing out orders to his crew, but he has learned to let the women handle the specifics. "I'm already down the road looking for the next project, and they'll be going to pick out a blade of grass," he said, describing the women as perfectionists.

He points to the area where he wants new bushes, for example, and they design how it will look.

"Most women I know are perfectionists," said Sarah Connell, 37. "We know what needs to be done to be pleasing to the public.

"We all work really well together," she said. Seacrist said she receives lots of compliments from golfers and tennis players. "I love the people here."

The 43-year-old grandmother landscaped St. Petersburg's waterfront before taking the job two years ago at Treasure Island. All three said they appreciate the physical activity their jobs provide and working outdoors.

"I like the workout you get here," Seacrist said. "You don't have to go to a spa."

Her favorite job is edging the grass _ although it's limited at Treasure Island mostly to the parking lot areas. "I had 10 miles of it at a park before," she said, "and I have edge withdrawal here."

She likes to focus on one activity at a time. "I just like something that shows a lot of drastic change," she said. "And I love planting oleanders. I think they are just beautiful."

It's a good thing, because she has helped plant about 2,000 of them in the park. She also helped plant the dozens of rose bushes at the clubhouse entrance.

Driving the heavy equipment is Waters' favorite chore. "I can do it and watch the dolphins at the same time," she said.

Connell said she will do anything. "I think it's really a group effort," she said. "Between the three of us we have come up with some pretty decent ideas."

A massage therapist when she is off the course, Connell said she enjoys the relaxed atmosphere of the waterfront. "The rose bushes, the beautiful boats going by and the dolphins _ it's a free nature show," she said. "It's a very peaceful place."

While she doesn't like insects, Waters is fond of wildlife.

"The ducks live longer because of Laurel," Seacrist said. "They'll come right into our maintenance building and look for her."

Waters brings bread and cracked corn every morning to feed the park's 48 ducks, including six newly hatched ducklings. Two crows, affectionately named Dave and Danielle, will eat out of her hand. "We had a bald eagle out here once," she said. And she has spotted manatees near the fifth hole.

"Mornings are especially gorgeous here," said Seacrist, who starts work before 7 a.m. There's no question, she said, "we work in paradise."