Wallowa Lake Tourism Association has won a $10,000 grant from Wildhorse Foundation to help pay for the racing boats purchased for the Seven Wonders Cup Dragon Boat Races held on Wallowa Lake last August.
Association president Michael Lockhart, initially conceived of dragon boating on the lake as a tourism development exercise, but he had to divide his focus for the first years.
“Once I announced we were doing a dragon boat team, my phone was ringing off the hook,” he said.
The “Dragons in the Wallowas” dragon boat paddling club was developed as a separate but related entity. The association is helping build the assets of the club but expects to hand off that responsibility to the club in coming years.
The association will continue to manage the race itself.
The first race in 2016 was very successful, and the brand new Wallowa team astonished more experienced teams with their competitive abilities. News of the beauty and quality of the event spread, and the second year the Wallowa team proved to be even more competitive against more experienced visiting teams.
The popularity of the Seven Wonders Cup is expected to grow yearly.
“We’re getting interest from top-rated teams, and I think we’re going to just keep growing,” Lockhart said. “Our race is popular because it is well-run and it’s fast-moving, which most competitors want. They like a lot of time on the water and they like to compete.”
The challenge for the paddling team is that, although interest in joining the team continues to be high, the local team needs to bring in a coach for regular workshops until local coaches are more experienced.
They also want to continue competing in the Portland Dragon Boat Races held during Rose Festival in June and expand their season (and spread the word about the Seven Wonders Cup) by competing in other northwest races. That costs money.
For now, Lockhart and the association are doing most of the work of fundraising, not only writing grants to help the paddling club purchase boats and other equipment, but opening talks with Wallowa Lake State Park and marina operators about offering dragon boat rides in the team’s big Kaohsiung boat “Wally” for tourists — an idea presented by the paddling team.
Lockhart is also trying to tackle a problem faced by the tourism industry as a whole.
“The biggest challenge to growth that we have is lodging for the teams,” Lockhart said.
Each team consists of at least 20 individuals, not counting husbands, wives, children and volunteer support people. For the first two races, Lockhart reserved blocks of campsites at Wallowa Lake State Park.
Because dragon boat racers use boats owned by the hosts and only have to bring themselves and their paddles, racers compete across the U.S. and even in foreign countries. When the Wallowa County race begins to attract teams from other states, there will also be the problem of getting participants to Wallowa County.