Dragon boats can still be stored at Lake Miona after more than 150 team members and fans took their cases to Sumter County Commissioners on Tuesday night.
A proposed change to county policy would have required dragon boaters to use trailers to bring their boats to and from the lake.
After heeding calls from the crew chiefs, the commissioners were greeted with hearty applause as they voted unanimously to honor existing contracts and continue to allow storage of the 41-foot-long dragon boats on Lake.
The policy was designed to regulate the storage of personal property at county parks and facilities.
“I want to put that aside tonight,” said commissioner Doug Gilpin, who introduced a motion to make an exception to the “grandfather” policy for dragon boats. “I’ve followed this since its inception and it’s something I can be proud of.”
Commissioner Garry Breeden said he would support allowing dragon boat storage “at the level where things are now”. This means that six boats could stay there, but no more.
County Chairman Craig Estep also praised the dragon boat teams for their community work.
The change in policy came after appeals from dragon boat team leaders.
Although The Villages may be planning to develop a dragon boat facility, two team leaders said they would not be quality as they allow members from outside The Villages.
Sandra Skopaz, captain of the Dragon Sisters, said her team wouldn’t be able to afford the cost and responsibility of using trailers to haul the big boats to and from the lake.
“This option would result in the dissolution of our team,” she said. “Not only do we maintain our boats, but we keep the waterfront clean”,
The Dragon Sisters, which include many breast cancer survivors, support several community organizations, including a center for battered and abused women, Skopaz said.
Dragon Boat Masters board member John Townley said requiring trailers to bring boats in would create congestion and prevent others from putting their boats on the lake.
“Give us a year to find a place to keep our boats,” he suggested.
Winner of a 2018 world championship in Hungary, Heat Dragon Boat Club is one of the most successful in the country, head coach Pat Bradley said.
Like the Dragon Sisters, Bradley said the club would not benefit from a Villages dragon boat facility as it has members from outside the Villages.
“Losing our storage privileges at Lake Miona Park would create undue hardship and could dissolve our club,” he said.
The Leatherneck Warriors are the only 70-plus dragon boat team in the nation, coach Bob Kane said.
“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 recruited five deaf team members.