Two ventures, one big and one small, are steaming ahead with new opportunities to show off Waco from the river.
Waco City Council this week approved commercial watercraft licenses to Ryan Helm and the nonprofit Miracle on the Brazos Institute for boats that will offer sightseeing cruises on the Brazos and Bosque rivers.
The Miracle on the Brazos group, headed by retired Baylor business professor L.M. Dyson Jr., will lease a small dock location on city land next to the La Salle Avenue bridge for $1,250 per month for the next year.
Dyson said a two-level, 100-by-36-foot boat is nearing construction at a shipyard in Galveston and will be delivered to Waco later this month.
The boat will have space for 110 sit-down guests, with a kitchen and fully air-conditioned space downstairs and an open deck upstairs, he said.
Dyson said the nonprofit group will run the boat with college students as part of an experiential hospitality education program.
“Certainly, I think it will change the perception of the river, and both the Waco and academic community will see the benefit,” he said.
The docking area is adjacent to a large mixed-use development called Chisholm Landing, which also involves Dyson. But, he said the two ventures are operationally separate. He said he hopes to have other docking locations, perhaps in downtown, but that hasn’t yet been settled. The boat was designed to have a low enough profile to fit into the boat basin at McLane Stadium, Dyson said.
Meanwhile, Helm says he plans to set up a more modest boat service from Buzzard Billy’s restaurant starting in March.
Helm said he got bank financing for a 30-foot boat Wednesday, the day after getting a five-year commercial watercraft license from the council.
Waco River Safari
Helm, 31, who lives in Axtell and grew up partly in this area, recently acquired a master boat captain’s license so he could run the service, which he calls Waco River Safari.
Helm has spent much of his adult life working in oil fields but relished the chance to get back to Waco to run a business on the Brazos, where he grew up fishing and canoeing, he said.
“I was lying in bed in the oil field, and the idea came to me. Hey, this might be good thing to do with all the people coming to town for McLane Stadium and Magnolia Market,” he said.
Helm said he plans to offer two-hour cruises every day on the Brazos and Bosque rivers, perhaps going up as far as the Lake Waco dam in a boat that seats 12. The ticket cost will be about $25, he said.
“I’m offering a lot of tour times, because it’s a smaller boat,” he said.
On football game days, he plans to operate the boat as a water taxi running fans to McLane Stadium from points upstream.
He also plans to offer “date night” cruises with live music, most likely “one guy with an acoustic guitar,” he said.
Waco Recreation Superintendent Jeff Goodman said the city recently began requiring a commercial watercraft license as a way to identify operators and ensure they are operating safety and with the appropriate insurance.
“We tried to keep it so it wasn’t too restrictive,” Goodman said. “We wanted to encourage business and commercial ventures on the river.”
He said the construction of McLane Stadium sparked interest in boating on the Brazos, though flooding on the river during the last couple of years seems to have dampened it temporarily.
“I think it’s definitely an area of growth,” Goodman said.
Helm said he ultimately hopes to have a variety of watercraft available for public tours. He said many Wacoans don’t realize the asset they have in the Brazos and Bosque rivers.
“That’s the whole idea,” he said. “I remember my first time going up and down the river. It’s surprisingly scenic.”