Good Life

Business Spotlight: ‘Starving artists’ find flood of paddling customers

Ed Bowman is the owner of Tussey Mountain Outfitters in Bellefonte.
Ed Bowman is the owner of Tussey Mountain Outfitters in Bellefonte. CDT photo

Ed Bowman’s business was supposed to be a short-lived venture.

A college student in 1978, he and a friend bought five used canoes from a retiring Bellefonte businessman.

Their goal, to rent out the canoes for quick cash while they were in school, was simple. Apparently not everything went exactly to plan, because business boomed and Bowman is still renting out kayaks and canoes at Tussey Mountain Outfitters.

“We were kind of starving artists for a while, but this sport has grown and become immensely more popular,” Bowman said. “It really exploded in the mid-’90s and continues to get more popular now.”

Bowman gave insight on the local paddling scene.

Q: Why has canoeing and kayaking become grown in popularity locally?

A: Part of it is you get go to places you normally wouldn’t be exposed to without being in a canoe or kayak. Even going down a stream here, from here to Bald Eagle State Park, you go down these streams, and you could see an eagle, ducks, a mink. When is the last time you saw a mink?

It’s going past the prettiest places that you’ve been, but you’ve never seen and taken it in. It’s that, too, because it gives people a chance to see things from a little different point of view. And just paddling down a stream just relaxes you, because it’s a chance to get away from a rough work week.

Q: Why do you enjoy canoeing and kayaking?

A: For me, it’s an adventure. If can go on a few rapids, it’s exhilarating. I can also go out at the lake and paddle on the shore, and it’s the most relaxing thing ever.

Q: What are some of the most common questions people come to you with?

A: Are we going to be OK? Is this dangerous? Are we going to fall in? How hard is this?

I always tell folks that most places around here, and there’s certainly some challenging places you shouldn’t go to if you don’t have the skill, that are adventurous and fun, but not dangerous. Now, you always run the risk of falling in.

If you don’t mind hearing that and possibly dealing with that, you’ll have a heck of a time in your boat and maybe sometimes out of your boat going down the stream.

Q: What gear do you need?

A: You need a life jacket, and you should wear it. Legally, you don’t have to wear it if you over 12 years old, you can swim and it’s after April 30. The fish commission did pass a law a couple years ago that Nov. 1 to April 30 if you’re in a canoe or kayak you have to wear a life jacket. Any other time you at least have to have a life jacket with you.

You also need a paddle, a canoe or kayak, some proper footwear, and you wouldn’t believe how many people come in with flip flops all the time. I find flip flops all the time in the cricks. If you fall in or step out in the water, they’re probably coming off, so you need good footwear for being around water and just whatever clothes are good for the weather.

Q: Is there anything people should do for their own safety aside from wearing a life jacket?

A: You should have some paddling skills before you try to do anything challenging, and don’t try something challenging you know you shouldn’t do. Also don’t go paddling alone.

You also need to know the water level, and Spring Creek is a really good example. It’s at a low enough water level right now that I’d let most people that walked through this door go kayaking. It’s still high enough, though, that I would be cautious if you showed up with your wife and two kids and had never gone kayaking before, I’d make you go on a mellower stretch of stream.

I also have to say, like I say to people and their families, you’ll still run the risking of flipping into the water.

Q: What are some of the easier creeks around here?

A: Bald Eagle Creek, Penns Creek, Pine Creek., but to start with if you and your kids have never done this before, go to one of local state park lakes. They have canoe and kayak rentals for most of those lakes. You can go rent one for an hour or two. If you like that, go to one of our streams next. Some people should walk before they run.

There’s a guide book, too, called “Keystone Canoeing” and it tells you how to get there, what class of stream it is for difficulty, where you should go in and get out, what to expect on it, so it’s a great resource for paddlers.

Q: Should people pay close attention to weather forecasts?

A: Oh, sure. If you’re a white-water boater, you’re rooting for rain, because you don’t mind paddling it. If you’re a fair weather paddler, somebody that just wants a nice, fun afternoon trip, you certainly want day like today where it’s calm and warm out.

Q: What’s your favorite place to paddle?

A: Probably Penns Creek from Coburn to Poe Paddy State Park. That, I would vote, is one of the prettiest or the prettiest streams you can paddle. And lower Spring Creek here from Bellefonte to Milesburg, it’s two miles, it’s an entertaining stretch of water in our back yard.