Kayaking in nature’s splendor
Story by Linda Long
Get out the paddles, the oars and canoes. Don’t forget fishing poles, tackle boxes and bait. Throw in those binoculars for some serious birdwatching. Some have even spotted an eagle or two. Oh, and don’t forget the sunscreen.
Folks in and around St. Clair County are heralding the arrival of spring and all it has to offer. Tops on just about everybody’s favorites “to do” list is Big Canoe Creek. The treasured waterway runs through Ashville and Springville, providing adventures not only for kayaks and canoes, but also for fishing enthusiasts, birdwatchers and anybody who’s seeking to unplug and unwind.
For Meg Hays, who along with husband Perry own Big Canoe Creek Outfitters in Springville, getting out on the creek is almost a spiritual experience.
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“We offer a trip down the creek where people get to experience nature in a different way … a way that a lot a lot of people never get to see,” Hays says. “It’s peaceful here. It’s quiet. We see all kinds of wildlife, a very diverse group of fish and birds, egrets, owls, hawks. I mean all kinds of birds.
We even have a couple of bald eagles that live around here.”
She believes the creek’s solitude is a big draw for many visitors. “You don’t pass any civilization. You’re just out there in the woods.
Paddling the creek provides a great family time to enjoy nature together. “I think that’s why a lot of people have come to see us.”
Randall Vann, owner of Yak tha Creek in Ashville, couldn’t agree more. “We’re all outdoors people here at my house. We’ve always enjoyed being outdoors, whether it’s on the water or in the woods. We’re passionate about it. We spend a lot of our downtime enjoying the nature that God has given us.”
Vann gives his business address as “off the side of the road, on Highway 231, at the bridge coming into Ashville.” Folks seem to have no trouble following those directions. On a weekend day from April through Labor Day, cars are lined up at the bridge, their passengers ready for an adventure on the creek.
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“It’s about a three to three-and-a-half-hour trip,” said Vann, “although there is no time limit. We’ve got people who come just to fish. They’ll stay from eight in the morning till dark.”
But for the most part, Vann says, they come to “pretty much, just enjoy the creek, the scenery and the weather. They get in their boats and may have to paddle a little bit to stay straight, but typically, they just get out there with a Bluetooth speaker listening to music with a group of friends. They just hang out. They’ll find a place by the side of the creek to go swimming. It’s just a place to relax. Sometimes we get a mom and dad and a couple of kids, and the kids like to race their parents to see who gets back first.”
Yak tha Creek opened in 2016. Since that time, according to Vann, “we’ve grown and grown and grown. We started out with 12 little store-bought boats and one pickup truck. Now, we can handle about 60 people at a time,” he said. “We have a passenger van to haul people, and we run three pickup trucks all weekend long.”
He says visitors come from all across Alabama.
Vann’s success seems to reflect a national trend in kayaking. According to a recent report in
Time, kayaking has risen to one of the fastest growing sports in the nation. It has grown to more than 8 million active participants, marking a substantial increase from 3.5 million just 10 years ago.
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Hays isn’t surprised by the boat’s growing popularity. “Anybody can kayak,” she said. “One of the beauties of this section of the creek that we’re on is that it is very beginner friendly. We’ve had so many newbies come through. They had never been in a kayak before, and they loved it. They learned the boat and how to paddle and were able to make it to the end. They said they couldn’t wait to come back.”
There is also, no age limit on who can paddle the creek. “I’ve sent them down as young as six and as old as 78,” she recalled. “We also had a 2-year-old ride the creek in a tandem boat, where the parent paddles in the back.”
The Outfitters have recently opened four primitive campsites, complete with picnic tables, fire rings and tent areas. The business is open year-round, seven days a week. Reservations are $35 for a single kayak; $50 for a double. The shuttle fee with your own boat is $10.
Yak tha Creek is open weekends, April through Labor Day, and weekdays with prior arrangements. Cost is $30 per kayak and $5 for your own boat.
Discounts are offered to the military, nurses, teachers, fire and police.
Group discounts are available with five or more renting.
Doug Morrison, president of the conservation group, Friends of Canoe Creek, has said, “paddling the creek is giving people a chance to explore, to stop and see, if they will pay attention. They’ll see that when you paddle up a creek, you tend to observe nature more than just walking outside in your backyard. When you paddle up a creek, you will see all kinds of creatures. In today’s society there’s just not enough outdoor recreation. People are too plugged into their electronic devices.”