|Creation date||June 11, 2012|
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The South Florida Airsoft Association is making waves in the airsoft pool down in Palm Beach County by attempting to be the biggest sanction field by a county government in the state of Florida (that I know of at least.) This wouldn't be such a big deal in California, as I learned at the US Airsoft Expo, the guys on the west coast have been wheeling and dealing with city/county governments for years, no doubt contributing to their ability to boast the largest airsoft community in the US. However, here in Florida, its a new concept and could potentially set precedent for future sanction, legal fields, which will be essential for the survival of airsoft and the elevation of this community to rival that of California (currently, Florida is 3rd, behind California and the Midwest.)
Currently, SFAA is looking for supports to help them win a $250,000 Small Business grant through Living Social and Chase Bank. VOTE HERE Before we get into why the SFAA needs Donations or a Grant, here is how it all got started:
About three and half to four years ago I came across airsoft in an article. I said, I gotta check this out. Found a group in South Florida and they invited me out to check the community and see what was up. The first day out, I was walking through a swamp, in woodland camo, goggles, old combat boots in knee high disgusting burning water. I said to myself, yep! This is how I am spending my weekends! I was hooked after that first BB hit my unprotected hand. The area we played we played in was questionable and after months and months of playing it dawned on me to try something. Mind you, a large portion of the community said I would be wasting my time. I brushed them off and asked them to sign the petition anyway. So for the next few months I played, or juts hung out at the field, getting signatures, handing the papers out so others would get signatures. By the time I was done I had 650 signatures on paper alone I was able to slip that along with a letter to the Commissioner of Palm Beach County. (Honestly it was all about timing)
Not too long after I become a father, and at the same time I lost my job. Rough but something happened. I received a letter the same day I cleaned out my desk from the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Director. They seemed to take interest in my idea, so we discussed a few things on the phone and he directed me toward their “special activities” director. From that point it was over a year and a half of figuring out how to make this work for everyone. Palm Beach County Parks do not charge money nor do they charge for parking, so how do we keep it operational and still allow people to come? Answer, a non profit organization where people will have to pay online like most other organizations out there. Another challenge they had, how can we make this more than just a field, can we make it an educational experience? Our answer was simple. Anyone who is interested in playing on the SFAA field will be required to attend a mandatory safety and handling orientation which will go over the basic of safety as well as transporting your replicas. We have had discussions with having local law enforcement available to do this with us. Once a person has taken the orientation they are welcome to play for the weekend for free. All ages on Saturdays and 18+ only on Sundays. This is a County rule to help comply with local laws regarding the use of replicas and minors. Which of course brings up another point that I will touch on. Once a player has taken the orientation, checked out the field they have the option of signing up online filling out the necessary paperwork and paying their membership fee for either 3 months 6 months or a year. From that point on a member will only have to show the SFAA Membership card to gain access to the field, get discounts at local retailers as well as admissions to other fields in the area.
Now in regards to the forms. We will have a rules and regulation form, disclaimer as well as membership form. Usual signatures will apply to minors under the age of 18. Their parents will need to sign each form as well as getting those forms notarized. If you are 18+ sign the forms and please help set an example. Simple as that. Another main obstacle was to overcome the fact that parents drop their children off at these places, when the law technically does not allow it. So a parent will not have to play, but will have to be present at the park. They will not be allowed to drop minors off like it is daycare. We have amended things with the County to allow 5 children to 1 parent as long as there is permission from other parents. We could not overlook the laws that are involved with airsoft and had to make sure we comply. The county agreed. The days when it is 18+ there will be no exceptions to the rules on this one.
Once we were able to get those solutions under control it came down to the safety of the surrounding park. This is a public park which means, nature wildlife and the general public. Paintball netting is an eyesore, we all know that. Wood fence degrades. The county had a rule about fences. Chain link, 6 feet tall. We would then wrap paintball netting on both sides. The odds of a BB getting out are fairly slim at that point. Of course they also had a problem with BBs being littered everywhere. Luckily I was able to obtain all the necessary information regarding biodegradable BBs and the county made it clear that we would have to make the use of those mandatory.
The final deciding factor however was up to one organization. The South Florida Water Management District. They own a vast majority of land here in South Florida which is also under protection of the EPA. So playing would have be tricky considering that questionable field we had got closed down. Why? Because we were on their property with airsoft replicas. Now this is where I can honestly say I have made the most progress ever. They have changed their lease to allow airsoft fields on future plots if necessary. And have excluded the use of paintball. Which pretty much means we have the opportunity to grow and it is there.
The County decided that jumped through every hoop and were persistent enough that they would donate the land to us under the condition that we (The Organization) would have to fund the entire operation. It didn't take long for me to say deal. I mean how many opportunities do you get like this? So for the past two years I have been working with a bunch of other great people who have helped get this organization to this point. We have held fundraiser BBQs, sold merchandise held raffles (Im sitting on some really great great to raffle off right now) but its just not enough. With marketing and investing it goes as quick as it comes. We need everyone to just step up to the plate, donate a couple of bucks and we can make this happen. We need $30,000 to make this happen. I honestly think if enough people in our community said, oh the hell with it, here is my 20-50 instead of going out this weekend, we could forever change the face of airsoft and the way the community sees it.
Like I stated before this can help the industry as much as skateboard parks have done for their industry. I do not see it being an Olympic sport but I do see it being more legitimate. Its a matter of raising this money and getting the fence installed. Once we get that going, I know it will grow.
Advocates for a Safer Airsoft Community Throughout Florida
That is pretty much the story from the source directly on how the SFAA is changing the way airsoft business is done here in Florida. With the economy down, and the growing controversy of firearms and the right to carry, finding business owners who are willing to invest in the huge over head required to start an airsoft field are starting to become scarce. SFAA's model is the most sound, not to mention the support of government, and will most likely lead to other fields popping up around Florida using the same model and community support.
So if you live in South Florida….its a no brainier, skip that one day of airsoft and donate it to the SFAA. Put in a day of training with your team and get everyone to donate. The investment will be a future place to play that is not only solid and no doubt exciting, but a place you will be able to play without being bothered by law enforcement, land owners, or other shady people. If your NOT from South Florida, donate 15 bucks and get a cool t-shirt, who couldn't use a free t-shirt? I need another! Everyone should vote for the SFAA in the Living Social/Chase Bank Grant give away, as it take a total of 3 minutes to do, and will help grow our airsoft community. So VOTE NOW! “Like” the SFAA on Facebook and tell them Merlin sent you!
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