Expect busy roads this Thanksgiving weekend. AAA is forecasting that 46.9 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles from home, including 2.4 million Floridians - the most in eight years.
AAA defines the Thanksgiving travel period as Wednesday, Nov. 25 through Sunday, Nov. 29.
This is the seventh year in a row that AAA has reported increased travel.
“Americans still place a high premium on being with family for Thanksgiving,” said Brent Stahlheber Sr., vice president of Brand Marketing and Travel for AAA - The Auto Club Group, in a media release. “Improvements in the economy and low gas prices should generate an increase in holiday travelers for the seventh consecutive year.”
But this year’s increase in travel of 0.6 percent is much less than the 4.9 percent from 2014. AAA says people remain cautious about spending even as the economy improves, but low fuel prices are helping make road trips more affordable.
“One holiday gift has come early this year in the form of low gas prices,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman, AAA - The Auto Club Group. “Americans are especially thankful for what will likely be the lowest Thanksgiving gas prices since 2008.”
CLEARWATER - Before you sit down to your Thanksgiving table and indulge in some turkey with all the trimmings, consider taking a run to whet your appetite. The annual Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot kicks off Nov. 26 and is a surefire way to burn off some holiday calories.
“This is Clearwater’s answer to Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade,” Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said of the annual event. “It is a fun event for families and a great way to get the day started.”
The race options include the 10K Turkey Trot, the 5K Wingding, the 5K Fun Run, the 1-mile Gobbler and the Clearwater Challenge, which is the 5K, 1-mile and 10K.
The races are all on Thanksgiving Day and begin at Keene Road just south of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, with exception to the 5K Fun Run, and ends in Jack White Stadium at Clearwater High School.
The Wingding begins at 7 a.m. and costs $20 in advance or $25 on race day; the 5K Fun Run begins at 7:30 a.m. and costs $20 in advance or $25 on race day; the 1-mile Gobbler begins at 8:30 a.m. and costs $15 in advance or $20 on race day. The 10K Turkey Trot starts at 8:45 a.m. and costs $20 in advance or $25 on race day, and the Clearwater Challenge begins at 7 a.m. and costs $40 in advance or $45 on race day.
LARGO - One of the county’s most beloved holiday events is coming to the Florida Botanical Gardens Friday, Nov. 27. The annual light display continues through Thursday, Dec. 31.
Stroll along paths that meander through a 35-acre garden illuminated with thousands of LED lights from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Admission is a $4 donation with children under age 12 admitted free.
More than 66,000 visitors came through one of three entrances at the 2014 Holiday Lights in the Gardens, according to a media release from Pinellas County Communications. The main draw: more than 750,000 environmentally friendly LED and laser lights, which “transform the gardens into a holiday wonderland filled with favorite seasonal and Florida-style displays,” the release continues.
Workers carefully wrap strands of lights around leaves and branches of plants, palms and trees to create a magical scene unique to the gardens. Themed light displays include animated butterflies and hummingbirds, plus flamingos, turtles, eagles, herons, alligators, dolphins, owls, a parrot, a pelican and a swan. An animated train display with more than 1,250 LED lights adds to the festive scene.
Co-stars to the lights are flowers, roses, poinsettias, palms, tropical foliage and a variety of trees all decked out in holiday splendor.
Everyone’s invited to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Pinellas Trail Saturday, Dec. 5, 10 a.m. at John Taylor Park, where the trail opened Dec. 1, 1990 with a six-mile segment connecting to Seminole Park.
Today, Pinellas Trail is a 47-mile long linear park extending from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. Officials estimate that more than 90,000 residents and guests use the multi-modal transportation facility each month.
Good comes from tragedy
The opening of the trail in 1990 was the culmination of years of work by former Indian Rocks Beach Commissioner Bert Valery Jr. His 17-year-old son died in 1983 when a car hit him on the Belleair Beach Causeway while he was riding his bicycle home from his part-time job. Valery then took it upon himself to do what he could to make a safe place for bicyclists and pedestrians to travel throughout Pinellas County.
Valery helped form the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organizations Bicycle Advisory Committee, which collaborated with the Pedestrian Safety Committee to work on improving safety for people riding bikes, walking and jogging.
For 22 years, a group of people better known for the work they do to keep the county safe has devoted itself to making sure people in need have a merry Christmas.
Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Ride and Run with the Stars is Saturday, Dec. 5, at Fort De Soto Park, 3500 Pinellas Bayway S. in Tierra Verde. The family-friendly event features a 25-mile bike ride, 10K family ride, 5K certified race, 1-mile fun walk/skate, a silent auction, kid’s activities and a visit from Santa, Mrs. Claus and an elf. Food, water and soda will be available while supplies last.
Proceeds go to the Christmas Sharing Project, which provides food, clothing and toys for crime victims, children and families that have been nominated by members of the Sheriff’s Office.
LARGO - At the end of a dead end street on a vacant lot in Largo, firefighters from Largo, Seminole and Pinellas Park spent all day Nov. 13 setting fires for a change. And then promptly putting them out - over and over again.
It was all part of live fire training, which was the culmination of more than a month of training for nine of the newest Largo firefighters. And those firefighters can’t start soon enough.
The department has been plagued by staffing problems for several years and was $1 million over budget on overtime expenses this past year. In a bid to solve the problem, the City Commission boosted the budget in its public-safety staffing plan.
Those nine firefighters are the result of that plan. Also, a job offer to a fire public educator is expected to be made this week.
“Without those new people that we have, it makes everything that we do on a daily basis that we need to do to protect the community, it makes it 10 times harder on us,” Assistant Fire Chief Terry Tokarz said.
But before the department can breathe a sigh of relief, the probationary officers still have training to do. And more training.
It takes six months for them to become county-certified paramedics, and then there are plenty more skills they have to learn before they can relieve the burden on the department.
Savvy bargain hunters are already at work this year, checking off those holiday gift lists for family and friends. Pre-Black Friday sales have already begun.
But that doesn’t mean shoppers won’t be out in droves for Black Friday, still considered the official start of the holiday shopping season.
Experts at the National Retail Federation admit that times have changed, with retailers offering early sales, but the numbers show that Black Friday is still the most-shopped day of the Thanksgiving weekend. NRF expects that millions of shoppers will take advantage of special sales events from retailers in stores and online the day after Thanksgiving, just as they always have.
Shop local - it’s a message that has spread across the country in efforts to promote Small Business Saturday.
When American Express saw how many local businesses were affected by the economic downturn, it pledged its support by creating Small Business Saturday, a day devoted to shopping locally. Created in 2010 and falling between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday is becoming a permanent fixture on the holiday shopping calendar, USA News said.
In shopping malls and department stores, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and Christmas is looking a lot like Walt Disney Studios and its affiliated cinematic enterprises.
This year, those letters to Santa Claus almost certainly include requests for one or two toys linked to a Disney property. In fact, Disney may as well just go ahead and purchase the rights to Saint Nicholas, his quaint old Arctic workshop and his elven workforce.
Consider this: In the last nine months, Disney has managed to crank out six feature films, including “Cinderella” on Feb. 13, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (Marvel Studios) on April 13, “Tomorrowland” on May 8, “Inside Out” (with Pixar) on May 18, “Ant-Man” (Marvel Studios) on June 29 and, most recently, “The Good Dinosaur” on Nov. 25. Not all of those films broke box office records, but are more than successful enough to generate full lines of toys.
Families and children, seniors and more could use a helping hand this holiday season. Each year, Tampa Bay Newspapers puts together a Share the Spirit list of the different activities submitted by those doing things to make the holidays bright. To add to this list, email email@example.com.
Turkey and food basket distribution
CLEARWATER - The Salvation Army serving Clearwater and Upper Pinellas County will give away more than 8,500 turkeys and food baskets to local families for Thanksgiving Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 23-24, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Those who registered for assistance in October can drive through and pick up their turkey Nov. 23-24 from The Salvation Army at various locations across Upper Pinellas County, with the main distribution center occurring in the lot near the YMCA and corner of Druid Road and Highland Avenue in proximity to the Salvation Army Mallory-Powell Social Services Campus, 1521 E. Druid Road, Clearwater. The Salvation Army relies on community partners and more than 100 volunteers to help with distribution. For information on volunteering, call Director of Development Lindsay Crossland at 727-725-9777, ext. 108 or email Lindsay_Crossland@uss.salvationarmy.org.
Pinellas County’s unemployment rate continues on a downward trend, according to the Nov. 20 report from the state Department of Economic Opportunity.
The county’s October not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4.5 percent, compared to 4.7 percent reported in September and 5.4 percent reported in October 2014. Pinellas’ unemployment is lower than the state and national rate.
Florida’s October rate was 5.1 percent, down from 5.4 percent in September and 5.8 percent in October 2014. The U.S. unemployment rate was 4.8 percent in October, down from 4.9 percent reported in September and 5.5 percent in October 2014.