Members of the dragon boat team fighting to keep practicing in West Lake Park finally made their pitch to the Broward County Commission this week. But they were met with resounding... silence.
The commissioners, who allowed the Blazing Paddles to make a presentation at Tuesday's meeting, listened and smiled while three people spoke about their beloved, ancient Chinese sport. Behind them sat more than a dozen boaters who were missing a morning of work to show their support. Mayor Stacy Ritter, with her trademark lip-glossed charm, thanked them for coming.
Yet when the boaters finished speaking, the politicians said nothing. Instead, they got up and and went to lunch.
"We're frustrated," said longtime team member Kristin Deffler. "I wanted action, and I was pretty clear about that."
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In April, the Blazing Paddles were threatened with eviction from the park because a kayaker complained that the storage facility for their 40-foot long canoes -- an orange shipping container -- was an eyesore that must be removed.
But the team fought back, arguing that the sport they practice in the park Saturday mornings is a free, healthy benefit for county residents. Twenty people ride in each 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. More than 260 people have signed an online petition saying the team should stay in West Lake.
Blazing Paddles has a contract to stay in the park through September. But after that, their fate is unclear. It's not easy to find a place to store 40-foot long canoes, and moving them is expensive and labor-intensive.They're hoping the commissioners will give them the green light to stay out.
"All we're asking for is a BYOB party," team member Will Murphy told the commission. "We'll bring the boats...we're asking for zero dollars."