SARASOTA VENUE ‘BETTER THAN THE OLYMPIC VILLAGE’
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, nathanbendersonpark.org.
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.