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  1. Pasco

Artistic outings and exhibit open a window to nature

NEW PORT RICHEY — For the early-bird artist, morning light offers an ideal perspective for painting in the natural setting. And what better way to start a Saturday than putting brush to blank canvas under a sun-streaked, shaded canopy.

The opportunities were boundless for the handful of amateurs who ventured to the Day of Art In Starkey Park workshop held March 26. The class, conducted by artist and teacher Leonard Lewis was the latest collaboration between organizers from Starkey Park and the Pasco Fine Arts Council, which is located in Holiday.

"Painting is medicine. It's so therapeutic," Lewis told attendees before they headed outdoors to set up easels on the wooden boardwalk that leads from the park's education center to the banks of the Pithlachascotee River.

Some had visited the park previously, but it was a new experience for others.

"I moved to Pasco County two months ago, so I'm exploring the area," said Mona Kaplan, who found an ideal spot painting opposite her daughter, Paige, under the shade of a leaning magnolia tree. "It's a nice way to spend a Saturday. I like to be able to enjoy my city and support the arts."

Organizers have been experimenting with photography outings and kids arts classes taught by teachers at the Pasco Fine Arts Council, said park operator, Rick Buckman.

"Arts is about a lot of things," he said. "We have something for kids. Something for adults."

And there's room for more.

The Pasco Audubon Society, which features monthly bird walks in the park, will join the collaboration with the 2019 Nature and Wildlife of Tampa Bay Photography Competition to be held April 6 in and around the education center.

Programs such as these help to get the word out about an unsung jewel.

Urban sprawl is encroaching on the 8,000-acre park, Buckman said, and the programs attract those who might not otherwise come to the park — and might want a say in preserving natural areas.

"About 50 percent of the people who come to these classes have never been here," he said. "It helps raise awareness. If we educate people and get them to appreciate what we have there, well, that might help with making future decisions."

These programs also highlight non-profit organizations such as the Pasco Arts Council and the West Pasco Audubon Society. The latter has been struggling with membership in recent years.

"We were considering folding," said Christine Rowland, who came on as president of West Pasco Audubon in January. A new steering committee has been working to add events beyond the monthly bird walks held the first Saturday of most months in Starkey Park.

The free exhibit will feature photographs of wildlife — river otters, alligators and snakes — as well as the birds one might encounter at the park, Rowland said.

Proceeds from photo entree fees will benefit the West Pasco Audubon Society and help to build a wooden bird blind along the park's Grassy Lake.

That project, partly funded by a $1,000 grant from the Audubon Society, will offer a new opportunity for bird watchers and other visitors to get a close-up look at ducks and waterfowl that would take flight with the human encounter.

If you go:

The West Pasco Audubon Society and Pasco Fine Arts Council 2019 Nature and Wildlife of Tampa Bay Photography Competition will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park Education Center, on Wilderness Drive in New Port Richey. The event is free. Those who go are welcome to vote on the People's Choice Award until 2 p.m. Photo entries will be accepted through April 5. For information and fees, go to

For information on classes and programs offered at the Pasco Fine Arts Council, go to

For information on programs offered at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park and other county parks, go to and

Contact Michele Miller at or (727) 869-6251. Follow @MicheleMiller52.