St. Marys Journal Argus
With an aim to attract paddling enthusiasts of various stripes to the town’s waterways — both natural and constructed — a request for proposals (RFP) has been posted to the Town of St. Marys website, seeking operators for a company providing canoe/kayak/paddleboard rentals and lessons.
There would be no municipal involvement in the operation of the business. But if the service — which would hopefully be centred on Milt Dunnell Field and the relatively quiet stretches of the Thames River and Trout Creek directly upriver of the Little Falls, but could also include activities in both the “Swimming Quarry” and “Fishing Quarry” — does get its oars in the water (pardon the pun), the Town would help promote it through its existing channels. And it would also work with the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) to put in place a dock at Milt Dunnell Field.
“We do have access to a dock that could be put into the water,” explained Director of Planning and Development, Grant Brouwer, who’s spearheading the project.
The deadline for submission of RFPs is Wednesday, April 8. The online request, located in the “Public Tenders and Addendums” section of the www.townofstmarys.com website, asks that the chosen business operator have their services up and running by July 1 of this year.
“Our primary focus is getting somebody at the Flats offering canoe and kayak rentals,” Brouwer said. “We’re looking for something that’s geared towards a family that’s looking to come to town for the day, rent a canoe and go up the River or up the Creek for a while, and maybe stay for a picnic.”
“It’s really an old idea that we’ve been trying to get our heads around for a while, and now we’re finally going to act on it,” he added.
Besides watercraft rentals at the Flats, the RFP also leaves open the option of providing enhanced paddling-related services at both of the former limestone quarries on Water Street owned by the town.
“The Town’s Recreation Department utilizes the (Swimming) Quarry for swim lessons, advanced aquatic courses, scuba certification, specialty camps, and group bookings,” the RFP documentation explains. “The other quarry has come to be known as the old quarry. Currently the Town permits the public to fish at their own risk. The old quarry offers a sheltered area by surrounding trees and fresh, still water. While the Town has not marketed this site to the public for the purpose of recreation, it still exists as an opportunity for the successful proponent of this proposal.”
Brouwer suggests that, because of the presence of still water, the successful proponent might want to offer lessons in one or both of the quarries. That could include, he said, what’s known as “stand-up paddleboarding” (SUP), where people use a telescoping plastic paddle and either stand or kneel on a surfboard-like craft.
“I’ve even seen where people do yoga on these things,” he commented.
“We’re just tying to change our mindset,” he said, referring to the activities that people in St. Marys think of as common on and around the town’s waterways. He also said the Town doesn’t want to “shoehorn (the successful proponent) into one location or another” without leaving open the options for their own creativity.
As in the case of working with the UTRCA in putting in a dock at the Flats, the Town is open to helping the successful proponent develop partnerships with other local amenities or services. That includes putting them in touch with such organizations as Partners in Employment or Perth Community Futures, if they need financial or business-development assistance to get the service up and running.
Brouwer isn’t aware of anyone in the immediate St. Marys vicinity who has experience operating such a business. But he said versions of this type of business do exist in Bayfield, Goderich and Port Stanley.