by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & R & lt;/span & ick Steltenpohl is admittedly out of his element. The former director of Hoopfest has now turned his attention to dragon boats. He's organizing the July 21 Paddle for Parks dragon boat races on the Spokane River.
"I've played basketball all my life and I had such a passion for Hoopfest," says Steltenpohl. "This [dragon boats] is totally different."
When Steltenpohl left Hoopfest he also left town. But he has returned and agreed to help raise the profile of the dragon boat races, which is a fundraiser for the Spokane Parks Foundation.
"I'm captivated by the river," he says. "I think we can make it into something big, a Riverfest."
Dragon boat festivals are common in Portland and in the Puget Sound area, but didn't debut in Spokane until two years ago, in conjunction with an international Sister Cities convention. The races were held again last year, but it was a low-key event. This year Steltenpohl has lined up new sponsors and has moved the course from just east of the Division Street Bridge to a more fan-friendly stretch that's adjacent to Gonzaga University.
"People can sit on the rocks or stand on the walking trail and watch the races," says Steltenpohl. "And we have a paddlers' village [near the Jundt] where we'll have vendors and space for people to sit down and a scoreboard."
Steltenpohl will rent eight colorful dragon boats from a Vancouver, B.C. vendor. The Washington Dragon Boat Association will run the competition.
The Spokane Parks Foundation hopes to raise enough money through sponsorships and $700-per-boat entry fees (there are 22 oarspeople in each boat) to fund its community projects.
"The dragon boat races will give us more exposure in the community," says foundation Executive Director Toni Nersesian. "We want the public to know that we're here, to fill in the gaps with projects the city's Parks Department can't pay for."
Nersesian says, among other things, the foundation works with neighborhoods that want to improve their parks, "to help them build a spray pad or build restrooms," she says. "We also underwrite swim lessons and we're building a children's universal playground at Mission Park, where all children, even those with disabilities can play."
The Spokane Parks Foundation is accepting applications from up to 40 businesses and groups that want to sponsor a team. Visit www.PaddleforParks.org to fill out a registration form.