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Parks entice visitors with family friendly events

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Jay Perryman found the gold coin he’d been searching for buried in the white sand near the edge of the spring. He snatched it up, pivoted on the balls of his feet and sped back toward the water’s edge. The water was too shallow to dive straight in, and Perryman had to wade out to about chest level before he had enough depth to begin kicking his legs.

On the other side, his teammate and 6-year-old nephew, Seth Faircloth, bounced impatiently and screamed for his uncle to hurry. Seth watched as Perryman, far ahead of the other tow teams, churned the water behind him, performing a mix of side stroking and dog paddling.

Seth and his uncle were just two of about 40 participants in relay races at Manatee Spring’s Family Fun Day Saturday.

Perryman was the first of three to reach the other side where Seth was waiting. The two showed their coin to a park official waiting at the finish and were declared first place winners for their category.

Seth said, “Winning feels good because we beat the girls.”

He didn’t have to do much training to get in shape, he said. He and his uncle, still panting from the swim, just had a strong desire to win.

Park Ranger Joleen Dudley, overseeing the races, said the Family Fun Day event is about encouraging families to explore the natural world together.

The event is part of a statewide campaign to get people outside to take advantage of Florida’s state parks. July is the state’s 75th anniversary of its state parks. Florida has about 160.

“Nowadays, all the kids are stuck on their video games,” Dudley said. “We want them to get outside.”

The 5-hour event featured relay races for three age categories, 6 and under, 7 to 12 and 13 and older. Winners got a free day pass to the park.

Besides the swimming portion of the relay, contestants also performed a three-legged race, a human wheelbarrow race and a ball toss, performed while walking backward.

Meagan Morgan, a student at Chiefland High School, volunteered at the event and was in charge of handing out balls for the ball toss.

She said her favorite part of the relay was the three-legged race.

“They weren’t really sure how they were supposed to keep up with each other,” she said.

She said the event is important for families “ because it gives them a reason to get together and have fun. It’s so calm out here. It’s relaxing, gets you away from all the stress.”

For more information about scheduled events at Florida’s parks, go to www.floridastateparks.org/thingstodo/events.cfm.