Kayaks, tubing business makes a big splash on Catawba in York County
The largest kayak and tube rental outfitter in the area may not run along the Catawba River this summer. That company may not be alone.
Brad Grishaber, owner of Twisted Beaver River Adventures, said earlier this week on the company’s Facebook page there are new rules in Rock Hill and Tega Cay, leaving him “uncertain if I can continue to operate” this summer. Grishaber said the rules are unfair and favor city departments.
The new rules come amid city concerns that large outfitters have been setting up shop, using public sites as a business location. That limits parking and access for the general public, city leaders say.
Tega Cay City Council will take up the issue in time to have its new rule, already agreed to by Duke Energy, in place for the spring and summer seasons.
The rules changes involve parking at public sites, such as Fort Mill boat launch operated by Tega Cay and River Park run by Rock Hill. Kayaking and tubing companies will be allowed to use the public sites only for drop off and pick up. And they would need business licenses.
Outfitters heard about changes in Rock Hill toward the end of last season.
Grishaber said Tuesday he had a dozen employees last year, but probably won’t have any this summer. He already paid insurance for his shuttle service, and he spent money on new equipment and boats.
“I spent about $20,000 updating equipment,” Grishaber said. “This is going to bankrupt me.”
Grishaber said he had to cancel hundreds of reservations over a few days at the end of the season.
“It cost a lot of money,” he said. “Basically, the season was over.”
City officials say the changes are an effort to keep public facilities open to as much of the public as possible.
“Specifically regarding outfitters’ use of the facility, they can unload passengers in a designated drop off point, but they cannot use the facility as a staging area,” said Tega Cay City Manager Charlie Funderburk. “They may only do so after they have obtained a city business license.
“With the amount of room being taken up by the outfitters, the general public has reduced access to the river,” Funderburk said. “There just isn’t enough parking at that facility. We are anticipating having this in place by May in time for the warmer weather.”
The cities also have public safety concerns.
“There were growing concerns about access for emergency vehicles, parking overflow and trash pickup at access points along the Catawba River,” said Katie Quinn, communications manager for Rock Hill. “We’ve been working with other municipalities along the river to create a joint program with them and Duke Energy to find solutions to make the recreation uses of the river safer and more enjoyable for all participants while respecting the rights of adjoining property owners near river access points.”
There have been up to five outfitters renting kayaks or tubes along the river between Tega Cay and Rock Hill. Last season there were three. The owner of another outfitter, who did not want to be named, said the changes do “not look good for any outfitter” and could shut down his business, making it inefficient to serve enough customers to make a profit.
Outfitters range from 50-60 customers to several hundred. Grishaber runs his service year-round, and does good business in the spring with spider lily trips at Landsford Canal State Park. He also runs out of Allison Creek and Ebenezer Park access areas on Lake Wylie.
“We go all over,” Grishaber said. “That’s our business model. You rent, we drop off and pick you up.”
However, he anticipates 90 percent of his summer business — largely run on the Catawba between Tega Cay and Rock Hill — would be impacted by the new rule.
“Without that income, we’re in trouble,” he said. “We do other things. We do shuttles, we rent out our vans to make ends meet in the winter. We make good income about three months out of the year.”
Grishaber said people often make large group reservations a year in advance. He serves wedding and bachelor(ette) parties and birthday parties, family reunions and other gatherings.
“The community seems to enjoy it,” Grishaber said. “We’ve sent thousands of people down the river.”
He said the Carolina Panthers booked a trip this summer, but he had to call back to say he needs to wait on the Tega Cay decision. Grishaber said he finds it odd given recent news of Rock Hill being in play to bring the NFL team’s new practice facility here from Charlotte.
“Then they turn around and say they can’t use our services,” Grishaber said.
He also points to Rock Hill having its own kayaking program through its parks and recreation department.
“It was kind of a joke,” Grishaber said. “Basically just shutting down our services, in favor of the city of Rock Hill services.”
Rock Hill has a paddling program where participants meet at River Park but are then bussed to launch locations. That difference, Grishaber said, is why the city would be able to comply with the new rules far easier than outfitters.
“The new rules that Rock Hill asked Tega Cay to implement really doesn’t change anything for Rock Hill, but it totally wipes my business model out, because I’m not allowed to use River Park,” he said.
Tega Cay park maintenance staff and police, like Rock Hill. will routinely monitor its access sites if the new rules pass, and ask anyone in violation, or operating without a business license, to leave. Multiple offenses could lead to fines or companies banned from the access areas.
The cities say they aren’t trying to limit access to businesses. Nor are they trying to favor their own city-run paddling program. They just want everyone to have use of public access sites.
“We aren’t denying them access, but they aren’t going to be able to set up shop at the access area moving forward,” Funderburk said. “Now that (Tega Cay) has leased that area from Duke Energy, it is important that the public be able to access it.”