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Rain's hardly fair weather; few frown as many rejoice

The much needed downpours limit activities to the indoors on Monday.

With judging only hours away, the livestock barn at the county fairgrounds was buzzing Monday afternoon. Teens, some in cowboy hats and boots, others wearing ball caps and sneakers, tended to their heifers and dreamed of blue ribbons.

But as their parents rejoiced over the heavy rain that was turning the parking lot into mud thick enough to trap a small car, the kids quietly lamented.

It was bad enough that the rain fell on the first day of spring break but worse that it kept the animals inside, where grooming space was tight.

Valerie Rinnier, 15, a student at Citrus High School, worried about Daisy, her 22-month-old, 860-pound heifer. Would her hooves be polished right? Would her coat look its best?

One of the fair's directors, Hal Porter, an affable man with glasses, a white cowboy hat and a pinch of tobacco under his lip, shook his head apologetically and reminisced about his own cattle showing days.

Even so, Porter said larger issues were at stake. "When you own animals, the rain is vital to your success."

"It's an inconvenience but nobody's going to complain," said Greg Baker, a rancher from Red Level who was at the fairgrounds. "We'll take every bit of it."

Tom Wolf, the barn superintendent, noted that the growing season had just begun and that the rain would help hay. A good harvest is essential, he said, because farmers are tapped out from buying feed during the past few years.

"Thank the lord," Wolf said as he looked outside. He had to raise his voice to be heard above the rain pounding the steel barn. Puddles had begun to form on the barn floor.

Flooding prompted fair officials to close the midway Monday evening. "I just don't want them wading through it because there's too many electrical wires around here," said manager Jean Grant.

"Even though this will hurt us financially," Grant said, "I'm still not complaining. We need the rain and everybody should shut up and enjoy it."

It was hard, though, to find someone with serious gripes about the rain, which started last weekend and was the most significant downpour in weeks. The rain would have to continue for days, even weeks, for it to have any measurable effect.

Most recent figures from the Southwest Florida Water Management District indicated the aquifer was 2.77 feet below the bottom of the normal range.

"It's very helpful to get the rainfall but when you are down two feet over the last two years, you need a significant amount of rainfall to make an improvement," said Swiftmud spokesman Mike Molligan.

Not surprisingly, the rain dominated conversation across the county.

"There's only been a few that have complained," said April Hartwell, a clerk at a Chevron gasoline station on U.S 41 in Inverness.

"We're glad Mother Nature is helping us in March, because March and April are bad," said Glenn Oberlander, grounds supervisor at Plantation Inn golf course in Crystal River. "Our rainy season doesn't start until the middle of July. This is making everybody happy."

With schools out for spring break, parents were left scrambling to keep their children occupied. For many, this means a trip to the video store or the bowling alley.

"The first two hours it was awesome," Linda Perry of Sunshine Video in Crystal River said of the rush.

Manatee Lanes on U.S. 19 was packed Monday afternoon. Joseph Rivera, 21, a student at University of North Florida in Jacksonville, had planned on playing tennis with friends but opted for a few frames instead.

"I'd like to be outdoors doing something but I'm not too worried about it," he said.

Heather Maxson, 16, a sophomore at Seven Rivers Christian School, wanted to be at the beach with friends. "But noooo," she said, drawing out the last word in typical teenspeak, "not us."

It wasn't all bad. Heather was earning a few extra bucks, called in to work an extra shift at the bowling alley because of the large crowd.