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County permanently changes Turkey Hoop Shoot, ‘Fall Festival’ to Thursdays

October 5, 2023
By Marcy Shortuse

If you thought like we did that last year’s Halloween Carnival and Turkey Hoop Shoot were changed to Thursdays because of Hurricane Ian issues, you were incorrect. Lee County Parks & Recreation let us know this week that this change is permanent … and there’s even more to the story.

Last week on the front page we posted the story about the “Fall Festival,” which is the new name for what had been known as the Halloween Carnival since 1977, when Dee Wheeler started the tradition to give island children something more to do at Halloween time. We also noticed that the traditional costume contest was not mentioned in either the press release that our local County Parks & Rec employees sent over, nor the one the county sent with a listing of all of the Fall Festival county events. 

To add another mysterious layer, we also got a press release that announced the Boca Grande Community Center fitness center will now be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, which is an hour earlier than before. The release also said the public restrooms there would now be open on the weekends. 

We initially thought that, because of the hurricane and other issues last year, that was why they switched the day for the event. Because the Halloween Carnival is an outdoor event, as is the Turkey Hoop Shoot, why wouldn’t we have them on a regular Saturday now?

This week we got some answers. According to Lee County Communications Director Betsy Clayton, the name of the Halloween Carnival was changed to Fall Fest to bring “consistency throughout our Parks system.”

While Halloween events at the other Lee County facilities all have a generic Fall Festival moniker, they also have names such as “Spooktacular Night” in Estero. We also couldn’t help but notice another area where there is no consistency – all of the other county Halloween events are on a Friday or Saturday night. We have the only one on a Thursday afternoon.

The answer to that, of course, is that our Community Center is no longer open on the weekends … except for the bathrooms, now. The park rangers have apparently agreed to open them at 7 a.m. and they will close them at 7 p.m.

When we asked the question about why there was no longer a costume contest, particularly when the North Fort Myers event features one, no answer was given other than, at the end of the email, Clayton said, “The county builds programs around community needs and adjusts as necessary.”

Another question we asked Clayton was if she had the numbers of attendees from the 2022 Turkey Hoop Shoot, the first to be held on a Thursday. When we checked our group photos from the 2022 event we counted approximately 35 people. Clayton said their records showed 62 people attended.

Even with some people leaving early, there was no way that number could be brought up to 62.

In response to our four paragraph email, we received four lines of text as a reply. We received no answer to one of our questions at all. 

What we have deviated from in the last two years is a Halloween carnival that went from an event featuring a costume contest, numerous game booths, a cake walk, hot dogs, hamburgers, cotton candy and other refreshments to “bounce houses, a cake and pumpkin walk, tractor pictures, guess the candy jar count and goodie bags.” That was what the county’s description was … and they are still asking for that bag of individually-wrapped candy. And it’s held from 3 to 5:30 p.m. – the same hours as the school’s aftercare program. On a Thursday.

What we will have also deviated from is a Turkey Hoop Shoot that was held on the Saturday morning prior to Thanksgiving since its inception in 2001, an event with multiple age groups, including one for adults. We don’t need those age groups now, as middle school and high school kids won’t have much time to get there by 3 p.m. (the Hoop Shoot runs the same hours as the Fall Festival, from 3 to 5:30 p.m.). Nor will most parents have time to go unless they take off work to attend. 

Unless the county bends on this, two generational island events will be forever changed to events for elementary-school-aged children who are already on the island that day. Families who flew in to attend either of these – and there were some who did – will no longer come. The many families from off island who treasured these events most likely will not have time to attend, either. The generations of families who came to these events and looked forward to them will no longer be able to do so.  

What does this mean for the Easter Egg Hunt? And is the reason we no longer have 5K races, because they  have no one to work the weekends? Or is it because they won’t pay employees to do so?

Needless to say, a follow up email was sent. It was of a considerable length. We will let you know what the response was, if the response contains any answers.