RSWLiving - - Outdoors - —B.L.

South­west Florida res­i­dents and vis­i­tors don’t have to go very far to wit­ness some of the top row­ing in the world—just up the road at Nathan Ben­der­son Park (NBP) in Sara­sota. The “unique 600-acre com­mu­nity park is slated to be­come North Amer­ica’s premier 2,000-me­ter sprint row­ing course and re­gatta cen­ter,” ac­cord­ing to its web­site, nathanben­der­son­

The land was pur­chased by Sara­sota County in the early 1990s and was known as Cooper Creek Park, ex­plains Melissa Mitchell, mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager at Sun­coast Aquatic Na­ture Cen­ter As­so­ciates Inc. Known as SANCA, it be­gan in 2010 in con­junc­tion with Sara­sota County govern­ment and is the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion cre­ated to man­age the park.

“While con­struc­tion be­gan on the new park in 2011, SANCA and county rep­re­sen­ta­tives vis­ited and as­sessed top row­ing venues to iden­tify char­ac­ter­is­tics and ameni­ties they deemed nec­es­sary to make NBP one of the best fa­cil­i­ties in the world,” Mitchell says. “They con­sulted with the World Row­ing Fed­er­a­tion, or FISA, on de­sign and im­ple­men­ta­tion so the park could qual­ify as a FISA-certi­fied fa­cil­ity. This work was all com­pleted in 2013.”

She adds, “To­day, NBP shines as a master-planned, world­class row­ing fa­cil­ity … and aquatic sports cen­ter. … It grants ac­cess to the 400-acre lake and of­fers some­thing for ev­ery­one— miles of ded­i­cated walk­ing, run­ning and bike trails; fish­ing; and di­rect wa­ter ac­cess for sports such as pad­dle­board­ing, kayak­ing, ca­noe­ing and row­ing.”

The park also pro­vides dragon boat pad­dling and learnto-row classes for dif­fer­ent skill lev­els. And it of­fers sum­mer camps, equip­ment rentals and com­mu­nity out­reach pro­grams.

NBP has cer­tainly had a pos­i­tive ef­fect on row­ing in the South­west Florida area. “We’re so for­tu­nate to have a place like it close by,” notes Jon Hart, past pres­i­dent of the Caloosa Coast Row­ing Club, which op­er­ates out of Cape Har­bour in Cape Coral. “It is one of the nicer [row­ing] venues. It is bet­ter than the Olympic Vil­lage,” Hart says.

The park has played host to, or is sched­uled to host, many lo­cal, na­tional and in­ter­na­tional events, in­clud­ing the fol­low­ing:

• In­ter­na­tional Breast Cancer Pad­dlers Com­mis­sion (2014)

• UIPM Modern Pen­tathlon World Cup Fi­nal (2015, 2016)

• US-Row­ing Youth Na­tion­als (2015, 2017)

• Olympic and Paralympic Row­ing Tri­als (2016)

• World Row­ing Cham­pi­onships (2017)

• ITU World Cup Triathlon (2017)

• World Row­ing Masters Re­gatta (2018)

• NCAA Women’s Row­ing Cham­pi­onships Divi­sion I, II, III (2018, 2021, 2022)

• Nu­mer­ous para-row­ing, triathlons and events for the dis­abled; di­ver­sity row­ing camps; spe­cial events for veter­ans

At top is the start dock at Nathan Ben­der­son Park in Sara­sota. The venue's newly con­structed Fin­ish Tower is at left.

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