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Sunday, August 7, 2022

Dragon Boaters appeal to Sumter Commission after Lake Miona storage access threatened

Dragon boats still can be stored at Lake Miona after more than 150 team members and supporters brought their case Tuesday night to Sumter County commissioners.

A proposed county policy change would have required the dragon boaters to use trailers to get their boats to and from the lake.

After listening to pleas from team leaders, commissioners were greeted with hearty applause when they voted unanimously to honor existing contracts and continue to allow storage of the 41-foot-long dragon boats at the lake.

The policy was designed to regulate the storage of personal property at county parks and facilities.

Dragon Boaters were at Tuesdays Sumter Commission meeting at Everglades Recreation Center
Dragon Boaters were at Tuesday’s Sumter Commission meeting at Everglades Recreation Center.

“I want to put this to rest tonight,” said Commissioner Doug Gilpin, who made a motion to make a “grandfather” policy exception for the dragon boats. “I have followed this since it’s inception and it is something to be proud of.”

Commissioner Garry Breeden said he would support allowing the dragon boat storage “at the level things are at now.” That means six boats could be kept there but no more.

County Chairman Craig Estep also praised the dragon boat teams for their community work.

Modification of the policy came after pleas from dragon boat team leaders.

Although The Villages may be planning to develop a dragon boat facility, two team leaders said they would not quality because they allow members from outside The Villages.

Sandra Skopaz, captain of the Dragon Sisters, said her team would not be able to bear the cost and responsibility of using trailers to transport the large boats to and from the lake.

“This option would result in our team disbanding,” she said. “We not only maintain our boats but we keep the beach front clean,”

The Dragon Sisters, which includes many breast cancer survivors, supports several community agencies including a center for battered and abused women, Skopaz said.

John Townley, a board member of the Dragon Boat Masters, said requiring trailers to bring in the boats would create congestion and hamper others in getting their boats on the lake.

“Give us a year to find a place to keep our boats,” he suggested.

Winning a world championship in 2018 in Hungary, Heat Dragon Boat Club is one of the most successful in the nation, said head coach Pat Bradley.

Like the Dragon Sisters, Bradley said the club would not benefit from a Villages dragon boat facility because it has members from outside The Villages.

“Losing our storage privileges at Lake Miona park would create an undue hardship and could dissolve our club,” he said.

The Leatherneck Warriors are the only age 70+ dragon boat team in the nation, said coach Bob Kane.

“As seniors and super seniors, we only have a short window to achieve our goals,” he said. “Our boats are classrooms.”

Working with other community groups, Kane said the Leatherneck Warriors have recruited five deaf team members.

 

 

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