Keep Dragon Boats in West Lake Park sign now

Dear Broward County Board of Commissioners:

FLCTs Blazing Paddles is a team that competes in dragon boat races. (See information on dragon boat racing below). In 2008, the team negotiated for and received a permit to engage in dragon boat training and store related equipment, including dragon boats, in West Lake Park. The team purchased a storage container, after approval of same by park management, placed the container in a spot approved by the park and has been training there ever since. The relationship was uneventful until April 2009, when one, and only one park patron made it his mission to get Blazing Paddles evicted from the park.

This individual contacted the Parks Department Director, Bob Harbin, threatening press attention if his demands for the teams ouster were not given the attention he wanted. Surprisingly, this heavy-handed tactic worked initially, as Harbin attempted to summarily compel the group to remove the container, despite the permit and the tremendous hardships this would impose. On 6 May 2009, the Parks Advisory Board overruled Harbin, ordering that the parks would honor the permit, which is valid through the end of September 2009, and requesting that the Board of County Commissioners determine a long-term solution.

This petition requests that the Board find a long-term solution that will continue the mutually beneficial relationship whereby the Parks Division allows Blazing Paddles to store boats and equipment in West Lake Park, and Blazing Paddles continues to provide Broward County residents with a healthy, environmentally friendly activity.

What is Dragon Boat Racing?

Dragon boat racing involves paddling a long, delicate ceremonial boat that resembles an Asian dragon. Typical races are 250 meters or 500 meters, and are completed in one to three minutes. The sport develops teamwork, cardiovascular fitness and core strength, and is accessible to almost everyone. It has been specifically found to benefit the survivors of breast cancer. The boats are entirely human-powered and emit no pollutants.

Dragon boat racing is said to be the fastest growing water sport in the world. In the U.S. in 2007 there were over 100 cities with dragon boat races. There were about 3,500 unique dragon boat teams and over 100,000 participants. Observers of the sport note considerable increases in all of these numbers. World wide there are over 50 MILLION dragon boaters. There are dragon boat races on every continent (except Antarctica) and in more than 40 nations. See www.usadragonboating.com.

Dragon boats cost about $8,000 to $16,000. They are approximately 41 feet long, four feet wide and weigh hundreds of pounds. The lifting of dragon boats requires numerous people. Transporting dragon boats is difficult and endangers the boats themselves as dragon boats are lightly constructed vessels intended for recreation and ceremony.

In Florida, dragon boat racing is growing rapidly and teams can be found in nearly every county. In South Florida, Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties are home to numerous competitive, corporate and community teams. Miami-Dade County parks currently store dragon boats onsite in shipping containers, and dragon boats are also stored in a building at the Miami Rowing Club. Hillsborough County, Florida is home to a very large number of teams and it will be hosting the Dragon Boat World Championship races in 2011.

Who is Blazing Paddles?

In Broward County there is currently only one competitive dragon boat racing team -- Blazing Paddles. The team was founded in 1999 and represents the Fort Lauderdale Childrens Theatre, a local charitable and cultural organization that serves all of Broward County. Last year, Blazing Paddles was given permission to store dragon boats at West Lake Park. Following permission, the team purchased a 40 foot long storage container at a cost of more than $2,000.00. The storage container is located near the maintenance area of the park.

Since the team has been present at West Lake Park, they have held practices there and have provided local community and charity groups with the opportunity to use the boats. They open their practices up to park visitors. Paddlers each pay to enter the park on the weekends. The team is in discussions with a Miami-Dade County Breast Cancer Survivor dragon boat team, Save Our Sisters (SOS), about forming a Broward breast cancer survivor team, with the newly formed team using the boats stored at West Lake Park.

The team trains diligently and it has paid off Blazing Paddles recently became the IDBF Community Division World Champions.

So Whats the Problem?

Recently, after one, and only one, park patron complained about Blazing Paddles presence at West Lake Park, the Director of Broward County Parks attempted to evict the team because he was concerned that he'd have to let all groups store boats at County parks if one group had permission.

Blazing Paddles presents to you, the Broward County Board of Commissioners, the following:

(A) Permission for one does not have to mean permission for all. The Commission or, if the Commission so chooses, the Parks Advisory Board, can create criteria to determine whether a group should be allowed to store boats or other sporting equipment, on park property. Criteria might include, but need not be limited to, space available at the park in question, size of boats or other equipment, feasibility of transport and how having the boats or other equipment at the park will benefit the community and park visitors;
(B) Dragon boats cannot easily be transported due to their size, weight and lack of durability.
(C) The appearance of the current storage container, if that is deemed an issue, can easily be painted to blend in with the natural environment of West Lake Park;
(D) Broward County should welcome dragon boating to the community;
(E) Dragon boating, which caters to all ages and all athletic abilities, fits well within Broward County Parks and Recreations motto, Commit 2 B Fit and its slogan, It all starts in parks;
(F) Broward County would not be setting a dangerous precedent by allowing a non-exclusive group to store boats on park property given that the group provides an activity to park guests and to the residents of Broward County;
(G) The storage and towing of dragon boats, if kept offsite (away from the park), would make participation in the sport difficult, if not impossible;
(H) The groups presence in a park will continue to draw paying visitors to the park, benefitting the County park system;
(I) Parks in counties surrounding Broward are already supporting dragon boating and the storage of boats within parks; and
(J) The possibilities for fund-raising for charities like the Fort Lauderdale Childrens Theatre and Deliver the Dream, and the opportunity to provide Broward County breast cancer survivors and others with an athletic, social and supportive outlet far outweigh any argument in opposition to the storage of dragon boats within a park.

The media has reported the story of Blazing Paddles quest to keep its boats at West Lake Park multiple times. If you want more information, including what bloggers around the world have to say about the issues, please visit:

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/sfl-dragon-boat-bn050509,0,1252311.story

http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/juice/2009/04/broward_county_gives_dragon_bo.php

http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/juice/2009/05/dragon_boaters_can_stay_in_par.php

THE FOLLOWING BROWARD COUNTY RESIDENTS BELIEVE THAT BROWARD COUNTY SHOULD ALLOW BLAZING PADDLES TO CONTINUE TO STORE ITS BOATS AT WEST LAKE PARK, INDEFINITELY.

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Ross OdomBy:
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Petition target:
Broward County Board of Commissioners

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