TAMPA - Parents who take their kids to Kate Jackson Park in south Tampa are finding there's more to the experience than just jungle gyms, picnics, and swing sets. Numerous aggressive squirrels are inviting themselves to the party, usually with one purpose in mind: free food.
"They're brazen. You know, climbing the strollers to steal food," said Samantha Pollara, who brings her one-year old daughter to the park.
"I worry for my little girl when I come here," Pollara said.
The parks department has been receiving complaints that the squirrels have been bothersome, and in some cases, threatening.
"When you bring a snack and you try and picnic here it can get a little scary for the kids," said Katrina Grantham, a south Tampa resident. Grantham said her biggest concern was whether the squirrels carry any disease.
"I have warned our kids about rabies," Grantham said. "I do think it is something that should get addressed."
Initially, the response from the City of Tampa was to install more signs warning park visitors not to feed the squirrels.
Now the city plans to take more drastic action, including a squirrel round-up.
"We have found a trapper who will trap them and relocate them," said Greg Bayor, Tampa's parks director.
Bayor said the captured squirrels will be released back into the wild in a different location, not euthanized.
To prevent a new group of squirrels from replacing the relocated ones, the city is going to try the unusual approach of simply giving them food, just not inside the park itself.
"Let's feed the squirrels. Not in here, but around the perimeter," said Bayor. "We're going to build our own squirrel feeders."
Bayor said the department wants to make interesting designs for the feeders that will be fun for the kids to observe, but at a distance.
"We're hoping they'll be fat and content," Bayor said.
Chris Trenkmann can be reached at email@example.com.