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A Sarasota rowing park races to repair damage caused by Hurricane Ian

People rowing in a lake at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota
Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota County was built with $20 million in tourism tax money to transform what was once a rock quarry borrow pit into a world-class race course.

The county is working to complete most work at Nathan Benderson Park before the start of regatta season, which begins April 1.

Sarasota County officials say repairs at Nathan Benderson Parkfrom Hurricane Ian will cost over $3 million after the 3.6-mile rowing lake — which hosts national and international championships — sustained significant damage.

Nicole Rissler, Director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources for the county, says the device that controls wave action in the racing lanes was impacted in several areas.

"There are pieces that were destroyed and have to be completely manufactured and rebuilt,” she said. “There are pieces where the connections have to be fixed, and there is some cabling under the water that will have to be replaced. So it's kind of a conglomerate of damage."

The wave-attenuator, a floating structure both above and beneath the water, is just over a mile in length.

The facility's starting line and boat launch were also damaged by the hurricane.

"It's the southern shoreline that's the issue,” Rissler said. “All of those acres of water being pushed to the southern end is where visually, you can see most damage."

Rissler says the county is on track to have repairs to the race course completed by April 1st, the start of regatta season. In the meantime, the park is open to recreational users.

Four concrete beams with lawn and lake in distance.
Steve Newborn
View of the race course from the top of the finish line tower.

Since it opened in 2014, the lake at Nathan Benderson Park has established itself as a world-class facility and has been calibrated specifically for rowers. The wave attenuator bisects the lake, making sure there are as few waves as possible. The six-story tower at the finish line can be seen for miles around.

Over the years, US Rowing, the NCAA, and the U.S. Olympic team have come to Sarasota to train and compete at the park's man-made lake, which has nine 2,000-meter racing lanes.

The 2023 US Rowing Youth National Championships is scheduled to be held at Nathan Benderson Park in June.

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