Sparks flew at the Flathead Valley Community College occupational trades building on Friday, as Mike Turcotte began welding the seams of the large trailer sitting upside-down in the shop.
Once it is determined that the weight distribution is equal and that the frame sits flush, the trailer only needs to be painted before it begins transporting dragons to the Flathead’s various waterways.
The new trailer, a collaborative effort with FVCC, the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce and Mountain West Bank, will have enough room for two dragon boats, allowing local teams to safely transport the 41-foot-long boats for practices and events.
Last summer’s Montana Dragon Boat Festival in Bigfork solidified the interest for the sport in the Flathead, with dozens of teams and thousands of spectators enjoying the sunshine and friendly competition.
It was such a big success that the 2013 festival – held on Sept. 7 and 8 – will be two days instead of one, allowing more teams and more fun.
Bruce Gunderson, a member of the local team the DragonFlies, said he volunteered to spearhead the project for a new trailer once it was determined the need existed. Until now, teams were using borrowed boat trailers, which didn’t have enough room for the dragon boats and typically cost around $10,000.
Instead of buying a trailer for upwards of $7,000 and transporting it from Seattle, Gunderson decided to see if the project could be locally sourced. FVCC came to mind, he said, because studied forestry there, graduating in 1976.
“I attended FVCC years ago and I’ve followed their progress in becoming a great school in the valley,” Gunderson said. “I knew about their welding program and thought it would be a great opportunity for welding students to learn while building something pretty cool.”
The Kalispell Chamber of Commerce will own the trailer, with Mountain West Bank providing the funding for materials and FVCC students and faculty providing the labor in the evenings and on weekends.
Turcotte said he enjoyed working on the project, which began in January and should be finished during or after spring break.
“It’s awesome to have a project like this,” Turcotte said. “You get some hands-on experience.”
Once the trailer is finished at FVCC, the DragonFlies will paint it, Gunderson said. Pretty soon, the team will start practicing on local waterways and they’ve got some out-of-state competitions and in Canada coming up. They are sure to use each competition as a way to promote the local festival, which Gunderson predicts will only get more popular.
“I think this sport is really well-suited for the Flathead Valley and I think it’s going to grow,” Gunderson said.
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