The Manatee-Sarasota area is quickly becoming known across the country and beyond as a major center for rowing.
Three sites are being used for the sport – Fort Hamer Park on the Manatee River in Manatee County, Nathan Benderson Park just across the line in Sarasota County and Blackburn Point Park along the Intracoastal Waterway in Osprey.
At Fort Hamer Park in Parrish, a large boathouse has been built to accommodate scores of rowing shells, which launch from a floating dock in the river. Over the winter, teams from colleges, including Harvard University, Northeastern University in Boston and Grand Valley State University in Michigan have come to the facility to practice.
During the winter off-season, rowers practice on rowing machines, but time on the water – which isn't possible in the winter up north – is important as the teams prepare to compete in the spring.
In addition to serving as a winter training facility for rowing teams, a concession is planned at Fort Hamer Park, possibly as early as fall 2011, with rentals of kayaks, canoes and paddleboards.
Another facility that's being developed as a first-class rowing center is nearby Nathan Benderson Park. The 400-acre lake there has been the site of high school, collegiate and masters regattas for the past two years. With eight rowing lanes that are in easy view of spectators, grandstands and a new boathouse, the site is very rower and spectator friendly.
Extending the existing 1,700-meter rowing course to 2,000 meters – which is planned for this year – will allow it to host world-class events. Nathan Benderson Park will also have canoe and kayak rentals, biking and hiking paths and community rowing programs.
At Blackburn Point Park, about 30 minutes south, long-distance rowing races are held along the picturesque Intracoastal Waterway, with dolphins, manatees and numerous species of water birds frequently spotted.
For links to the three local rowing clubs, click here.
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