With the snip of a ribbon, a new face on the Chattahoochee will begin renting kayaks, canoes and inner tubes to customers from all over.
The Chattahoochee Paddling Company, located at 400 Brickyard Road in Phenix City, Ala., held a ribbon cutting ceremony Saturday. Members of the Phenix City Chamber of Commerce presented owner Thomas Mulhall with his first dollar and cheered as the business was opened for the first time.
The outpost will rent kayaks, canoes and tubes, not rafts. For $35, you can rent a canoe or kayak and travel about five miles downriver before being picked up. For $15, the business will shuttle you and your own boat five miles up or downriver. For $20, you can rent a fishing canoe or kayak and stick close to the outpost.
But Mulhall said he expects his biggest draw to be tubing. For $5, you can rent a tube and take a leisurely two-hour float from the Phenix City amphitheater down to the outpost.
“I have dreamed of opening up a boat rental business for years,” Mullhall said. “The first job I ever had was life-guarding and teaching canoeing and rowing at a Boy Scout camp. When I first heard people talking about blowing up the dams, I started looking for the best place to open up a business that could not only do whitewater but could support flat water boat runs as well.”
He said he heard about the building on Brickyard Road and waited three years before seeing it go up for sale.
“My wife and I are working class people and my wife’s first question was, ‘Can we afford it and all the repairs?’ The answer was no but my wife let me buy it anyway,” he said.
The building has a lot of history, and Mulhall is incorporating it into all aspects of the shop. The tops of the boat racks are made from pieces of the old dam, and the racks themselves are made from re-purposed equipment from historic mills. The building was most recently a cabinet shop and brick making factory.
Mulhall believes he’s even dug up parts of the old CSS Jackson Confederate gunboat, which was burned by the Union Army during the Civil War and set adrift down the river. Many of those parts, as well as other industrial relics he’s uncovered, such as wrenches and hatchets, sit in a display case near the front of the shop.
But Mulhall says he intends to do more than just rent boats — he wants to construct them too. The building has a fully equipped boat shop where he intends to help bring back the glory days of wooden boats on the river.
“As we start to develop, we'll spend more time building boats. The younger people will work the counter,” he said.
It all comes back to history — decades ago, his put-in point was the site of an enormous gas dock that serviced boats on the river. Maybe someday, he says, he’ll be able to recreate something like that.
“Most people are totally amazed that there used to be this huge gas dock here, and these beautiful wooden boats. It'd be very difficult to replicate this anywhere else in the area without doing major excavation work. Really it was just redoing what was already here.”
Mulhall made it clear that his company does not intend to step into Whitewater’s territory just yet.
“Right now, we’re focused on downriver,” he said “If we ever get a whitewater permit, it’ll be because Whitewater Express helped us out.”
For now, Mulhall says the company will stick with rentals, but he has lots of ideas for how to grow the shop in the future. He mentioned a waterfall, garden, volleyball court and even a fifty-foot slide that would go from the shop all the way into the water.
“We're not looking to get rich overnight off this,” Mulhall said. “This is just something we're getting started on, and we've got a lot more things in the works. This is the foundation.”