Floating fun

Published 11:59 pm Monday, July 13, 2009

A new local business offers its customers a chance to take a ride on the wild side — a canoe ride, that is.

Martin Young started Bearfoot Outfitters three years ago, giving family members and friends the chance to canoe down the Yellow River in southern Covington County. Recently, he has started to market the company to the general public.

“We’ve just been kind of easing along with it these past few years,” he said. “This year, we’re pushing hard to get it announced to the public, so that people can realize that Alabama has its own facilities to play on the water.”

For $15 a seat (children 10 and under boat free of charge), a group can rent as many canoes as they need. Bearfoot Outfitters provides transportation to the starting point and also picks up canoes at the end of the five-mile trip. The company also provides paddles and Coast Guard-approved life jackets. Currently, Young has eight canoes and said a canoe can safely seat two adults and two small children.

“The boats are rated for four people, but I personally prefer to have two adults and two smaller kids; it’s a lot more stable that way,” he said. “If you load it down and it gets too heavy, it gets a little harder to paddle.”

Young said the normal route for the canoe trip is not terribly difficult, so there are no guides required. The average depth along the river is about waist deep, and there are relatively few obstructions. Canoers start at one of several stops, and then float down south along the Yellow River before ending up back at the Bearfoot Outfitters building at the end of the route.

Young said the land on the east bank (left side) of the river is private property, while the land on the west bank is part of the Conecuh National Forest. Canoeists can temporarily disembark at several sandbars along the trip, but are asked to avoid most of the private property.

“There is one sandbar on private property where we are allowed to stop, as long as our customers don’t leave any trash there,” Young said. “But there are lots of nice sandbars on the forest side as well, and there’s plenty of calm water there for folks to stop and play for a while before finishing up their trip.”

Young said most trips are the five-mile route, but longer routes may be possible in the near future.

“Eventually, we’re going to be working on some overnight trips,” he said. “It might be that you’ll put in off Hwy. 55, and then float down to our property. You can just leave your gear in the car here at the property, and then when you arrive that night, it’s all here waiting for you. And then, if you’re really adventurous, you can float down to County Road 2 in Florida and we’ll pick you up there.”

Regardless of the length of the trip, Young said canoeing is a perfect way to get rid of any pent-up stress from everyday life, no matter what the age. He said he has had customers as young as 2 years old and as old as 80.

“For one day, you don’t have to worry about money or your job or anything else that brings stress,” he said. “You can just get out on the river and enjoy a few hours with your friends. That’s one of the nice things about what we offer — you’re not in a public place where there’s hundreds of people you don’t know.

“You can just bring who you want to, and that’s all you’ll see for the day. That’s one of the things we want this place to be — very calm and peaceful.”

Customers are asked to sign a liability waiver for all riders before heading onto the river, and two adults are required in any boat that includes child riders. Trips may be cancelled or postponed due to bad weather or high waters.

Bearfoot Outfitters offers canoe trips on Fridays through Sundays, by reservation only. Trips typically begin at 8 a.m. and last for approximately six hours.

The company is located off County Road 4, about five miles east of Wing. For more information or to reserve a trip, call 334-858-2302 or 334-858-3140.