The Blazing Paddles dragon boat team won a temporary reprieve this morning in its quest to keep storing its boats and holding weekend practices at West Lake Park. The Broward County Parks and Recreation Advisory Board voted to recommend that the team stay in the park, at least until the County Commission can address the issue.
"They were recommending that [the team] be allowed to store the boats at a facility that would be code-compliant, for this group only, and only at West Lake Park," said Broward Parks and Recreation Director Bob Harbin.
As we reported last week, the team, which practices an ancient Chinese sport involving 20 people paddling 40-foot canoes, was facing eviction on May 22 because one kayaker complained that the large orange container where members store their boats was a "monstrosity" that must be removed.
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Kayaker Jerry Griffin not only thought the container was ugly but also threatened to have two more groups -- bicyclists and kayakers -- apply for permits to store their equipment at the park. Harbin decided to act fast and kick the dragon boaters out before hordes of teams tried to pull the same trick.
But the Blazing Paddles refused to disappear quietly. Team members had signed a permit to keep the container in the park until this September. And they sent a storm of emails to county and Hollywood city officials, arguing that their team -- which welcomes anyone to join -- provides a fun, healthy activity that many Broward citizens enjoy. Their storage space was essential, they said, because transporting massive, 40-foot boats to the park every week would require ten people, a trailer, and a lot of extra time.
About 25 people showed up at this morning's board meeting to support the Blazing Paddles. Longtime team member Kristin Deffler said many board members seemed sympathetic, although she was frustrated that a few didn't seem to grasp the difference between towing a dragon boat and a sailboat. "I'm happy that they heard us," she said.
The board also discussed a possible lease deal in which the team would provide a facility to store its boats, then lease that space from the county. But the board can only provide recommendations. The Blazing Paddles' fate will ultimately be decided by the County Commission, and Harbin said he wasn't sure when the commission would address the issue.