Children and adults alike line up to see the Bayfront Medical Center helicopter at Largo’s Touch-A-Truck day Feb. 9.
For the past 18 years, Largo has hosted its Touch-A-Truck and Florida Clown Day at the Largo Central Park, and each year it gets bigger.
In 2012, between 12,000 and 15,000 people showed up. That number was likely exceeded by this year’s event, held Feb. 9.
The crowds had plenty to see. Trucks of all descriptions were displayed in the parking lot with hundreds of children climbing all over them. There were fire trucks, dump trucks, tree trimming trucks, ambulances, garbage trucks, mail trucks, police trucks, tow trucks and a limousine.
Jessica Newsome, Largo’s special events coordinator, said this year bought something new.
“This year the Coast Guard will be towing in one of their boats,” she explained before the event. “They haven’t been here for the past couple of years so it will be fun to have them participating.”
But what the crowds entering the park from the north side first encountered was a Bayfront Medical Center helicopter. Children were lined up on both sides of the chopper for the opportunity to get inside and sit in the pilot’s seat and handle the controls.
Mike Smith of Largo and his sons Trevor, 11, Evan, 6, and Logan, 4 made that their first stop.
“They just like to touch things,” said Smith. “The helicopter was their favorite; it was fun. We come here all the time, but this year, I didn’t realize that this was on today. I just happened to drive by and saw the crowd and just had to come in. I’m glad we did.”
Aiden Fulling, 3, of Oldsmar took a turn “driving” a farm tractor.
“This is such a family-friendly place, and it is free,” said Aiden’s mom, Kristina.
In fact, apart from the food court, the only thing that cost any money were the bouncy houses, which required a $5 wristband.
Kristina Fulling said her son loved the event.
“He likes everything, especially the trucks,” she said. “We’ll definitely come back.”
One family who has come back several years in a row was the Krzyzaniak family of Largo. Mary Krzyzaniak said her son Kyle’s favorite was the “mouse truck,” the Truly Nolen vehicle. But he had an ulterior motive aside from the trucks.
“He loves the hand-outs,” she said. “He especially likes the beads.”
This year, the event featured a new element, especially for the parents: a business expo. Fifty-one businesses set up in the middle of the park, allowing residents to check out the services available in their community. Most of the businesses handed out free goodies to take home.
A more familiar element of the event were clowns – more than 100 of them from all over Florida. Uptown Clowns Alley gathered the clowns so the children could interact with them.
“The clowns have been part of this for years,” said Newsome. “They wanted to participate because they have a built-in natural audience with all the children. They have been doing this for as long as I can remember.”
The helicopter, however, seemed to enjoy a distinct popularity among the children who attended the event. Bryan and Jaime Marshall from St. Petersburg were making their second annual trip to the event with their children, Lincoln, 6, Molly, 4, and Callie, 1.
Waiting in the helicopter line, the children couldn’t wait to get aboard. The family already had some fun times over at the trucks, they said.
“The kids love it,” said Bryan Marshall. “They love the hands-on approach, and they get to blow the horns. Molly liked the mail truck and Lincoln liked the fire truck and dump truck. But now he says the helicopter is his favorite.”
Marshall admitted, with a sheepish look, that he loved all the trucks and the helicopter as much as the kids. They definitely will come back next year, he said.
Perhaps nobody liked the helicopter more than Dan Wright of Indian Rocks Beach, who stood back just admiring the aircraft. It brought back many memories, he said.
“I’m an ex-Navy search and rescue guy,” he said. “I spent 20 years in a helicopter, and I’m here today with my granddaughter because my son is over in Afghanistan flying helicopters right now. I still get a chill every time I watch a helicopter land.”
He said having the helicopter on the ground so the children could explore it and touch it was a good idea.
“This is a good thing and it could inspire a child,” he said. “This has got to be a kid’s dream come true right here.”