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Parking tickets vex visitors to Weedon Island

Published Nov. 29, 2006

Intending to enjoy her new kayak, Fredeen Cunningham took it to the Weedon Island Preserve's launching site on Nov. 12 - and came home with an $88 ticket for violating a county parking ordinance.

Cunningham was one of several people visiting the launch site or fishing pier at the end of Weedon Drive who were ticketed or warned that day.

The 14 designated parking spaces - 15, counting the zone for disabled motorists - were full that Sunday, Cunningham said. So she and other visitors parked along a nearby curb. It wasn't marked for parking, but it also didn't feature any prominent no-parking signs.

The hefty fine dismayed Cunningham, particularly because she believes the spot is not well posted.

"What's unusual is you can see where everybody parks there. How would I know what the law is when it's not posted,'' said Cunningham, who was visiting from St. Augustine where she operates a bed and breakfast.

Will Davis, Pinellas County's environmental management director, defended the preserve's warning system.

"I do believe there is proper notice within Weedon. We put out a number of warnings,'' he said.

Past the entrance gate on Weedon Drive, a spaced series of four signs greets visitors. They appear to be of wood, are painted brown with 2-inch yellow letters and are about 8-1/2 inches high by 34 inches long. They are placed on a post and are roughly 36 inches off the ground.

The signs cite park rules. The wording: alcohol prohibited, no pets allowed, vehicles on paved roadway only, designated parking only.

Just before the entrance to the hiking trail, a sign of the same type reads, "please no parking.''

Another such sign is across from the launching area's designated parking spaces. It is near the restrooms and unobtrusive, not especially close to the curbing where people are tempted to park outside designated spaces.

Cunningham said she didn't see any of the cautionary parking signs, nor did Joni Long, a St. Petersburg resident who also received a ticket.

"If it's that important and the penalty is as severe as I think it is, you'd think they'd put some serious signage up,'' Long said.

Tickets were issued by a Pinellas County deputy sheriff who is assigned to the county's environmental land unit, said Sgt. Jim Bordner, Sheriff's Office spokesman. The unit also patrols other county parks such as Shell Key and Brooker Creek.

The $88 fine - much higher than what is assessed for most parking tickets - is imposed for violating a preserve ordinance, hence the heavier levy, Bordner said.

Davis, the environmental management director, said 27 warnings were issued to people who parked in nondesignated spots between Aug. 21 and Nov. 26.

He said he didn't have the number of citations issued during that period.