Broward County Gives Dragon Boaters the Boot

Can you spot the eyesore in this photo?
Can you spot the eyesore in this photo?
Photo by Lisa Rab

Don't you love it when your local government acts swiftly and efficiently to protect the health of its citizens? Especially when those citizens are being threatened by evil boaters? Behold the tale of Broward County's latest brilliance:

Most Saturday mornings, members of the Blazing Paddles draw a small crowd to West Lake Park in Hollywood with their drums and shouts and general cheerfulness at the ungodly hour of 9 a.m. They are dragon boaters, which means they practice an ancient Chinese sport in 40-foot long canoes. They fit 20 people in a boat, paddling to the beat of a drummer at one end, while another member steers using a long paddle as a rudder. Anyone can join; right now the roster includes a 7-year-old and a 69-year-old.

Things were going swimmingly until earlier this month, when they experienced NIMBY-ism of a strange variety. "One guy made it his mission to kick us out," explains longtime team member Kristin Deffler.

Jerry Griffin, a kayaker from Davie who's a regular at the park, emailed Parks Advisory Board member Sheila Rose to complain that the container where Blazing Paddles stores its boats was a "monstrosity" and a "blemish" that needed to be removed.

For the past year or so, team members have been storing their boats in a large orange container--the kind you'd expect to be pulled by a freight train--which sits near the maintenance area of the park. They started this arrangement after a small mishap; someone fired gunshots at one of their $11,000 boats when it was stored at a friend's empty house in Davie. Broward County issued the team a permit to keep the container in the park, and they signed a contract to keep the deal through this September.

Why this bothered Griffin is hard to say. He declined to be interviewed, emailing that, "I do not wish to speak to you on the telephone as "misquotes" are frequent and documents are NEVER misquoted. I am sure you have been prompted by one of the "members" so I am sure your views are already skewed."

So The Juice went to the park to do some investigating. Turns out the container looks as if it escaped from a small orange train, and it's fairly easy to see when you first drive into the park. But once you're near the boat docks, it's hidden behind a small hill, so you have to look hard to make out the top of it. And if you're standing on the shore, where the canoes and kayaks enter the water, you can't see it because it's covered by bushes and trees.

Nevertheless, when Griffin wrote the Parks board, he meant business. He threatened to call the Sun-Sentinel. He also said he had two clubs---bicyclers and kayakers--ready to apply for permits to store their equipment at the park.

That was enough to scare Broward County Parks and Recreation Director Bob Harbin. He told the Blazing Paddles their container had to be gone by the end of May. "If I allow them to do it, why shouldn't I let other groups do the same thing?" he said.

When The Juice pointed out that he could simply deny permits to other groups, Harbin admitted that was true. But Griffin's media threat drove him to extreme measures. "I had a fire at the time and I needed to put it out," he said.

Interesting stance, coming from a county department whose slogan is "Commit 2B Fit!" Without a place to store their boats, the Blazing Paddles will find it nearly impossible to keep practicing their extremely "fit" sport in West Lake Park, Deffler says. It would cost a couple hundred dollars to move the storage container, and they don't have anywhere else to put it. Plus, it takes about 10 people, along with a trailer, to transport each enormous boat, and that's a lot to ask of people who just want to do some paddling on the weekends.

Deffler and other team members are hoping to plead their case to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board at a meeting next week. It starts at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday in Topeekeegee Yugnee Park, 3300 N. Park Rd., Hollywood, if you feel like getting up early to defend dragon boats. 

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