Not all are drowning in red ink, but several boat-related businesses are watching summertime revenues float not-so-merrily downstream.
Lake Waco is some 9.5 feet above normal, causing marinas and boat ramps to close during prime summer recreation days until the water recedes. The Brazos River was flowing through Waco on Monday at 20.6 feet, about a foot shy of the 20-year high-water mark set in 2007, leaving most but not all recreational boat services marooned.
Relief is not in sight. Meteorologist Bianca Garcia, in the Fort Worth office of the National Weather Service, said chances are 60 percent that Central Texas, including Waco, will receive up to 2 inches of rain through Thursday.
“This is hurting our pocketbook pretty hard,” said Ryan Helm, proprietor of Waco River Safari, which offers dinner cruises and occasionally morning trips on the Bosque and Brazos rivers. “I have a pretty big boat with lots of horsepower, so we can make the trips upriver, but seeing all the flooded docks is getting a little old. I’m not a huge fan.”
Last week, he had 15 passengers on Friday and 20 on Saturday in a boat that last year would have been full at 35 passengers every trip.
He said locals and tourists hear the weather reports, drive by the swollen Brazos and assume Waco River Safari is hibernating for now.
“We’re refunding 30 percent of our revenue, which is tough to swallow, but we are still making money,” said Helm, who launched his tour service two years ago and has at his disposal a second boat, a smaller model at 30 feet long and 10 feet wide. He said he hopes to expand his service to other cities, but for now, he simply watches the sky and prays for a break in the clouds.
“I hear we may be flooded through June,” he said with a sigh.
Erin Ward, who owns and operates Pura Vida Paddle with her husband, Blake, said her dock near Buzzard Billy’s Cajun restaurant is swamped. Customers would have to swim to rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.
The Wards had rather they not, so they are closed until further notice.
“The last time we were open was Mother’s Day,” said Ward. “Even before then, it was an off-and-on proposition, the water was up and down. Now it’s permanently up, on a constant high. Financially, it’s bad. We don’t have anything coming in. We do have other sources of income, so we’re blessed that way. We offer kayak lessons, and have found an alternate location near Woodway Park for those. The water is up there, too, but access is easy from the shore, and it’s calm. We also plan to start offering rentals at Tradinghouse Lake, the former TP&L Lake, which is a nice alternative.”
Also taking up the slack, she said, is the family’s new screen-printing business called Two Girls and a Guy, which will personalize shirts for Pura Vida Paddle. The Wards also hope to create a storefront to sell kayaks and paddleboards.
Pura Vida Paddle is less than rock-skipping distance from Buzzard Billy’s, where manager Miles Kastle sees a silver lining in the rain-producing clouds.
“It’s helping our business. We have good cold drinks, and people can sit and relax and look at how high the water is getting,” Kastle said.
Richard Chrisner, owner of The Outpost and Dick’s Canoe located eight miles south of the Whitney Dam on the Brazos River, said flooding and high waters now being released from the dam are costing him $1,500 to $2,000 a weekend in canoe and kayak rentals.
“This is our busy season, and I’ve been closed about a month,” said Chrisner. “When the Corps of Engineers put us in flood stage, and it became too dangerous to use the park, I shut down the canoe part of the operation,” said Chrisner, who also operates river cottages and hosts anglers from around the country pursuing largemouth bass in Lake Whitney’s clear water.
“I’ve had some big groups cancel,” he said. “They would have taken 40 or 50 boats. I’ve had to turn away others. We used to be booked out every weekend, but now we can’t even access the river. This has happened several times the last three or four years, knocking out a month or two of our busy season. You just have to anticipate it. We’re at the mercy of the river: low, high or hopefully somewhere in-between. Rain does not impact us much, but this is a flood control lake, and there is a lot of water in the watershed.”
Waco Tours offers vehicle trips around downtown, horseback rides in the country and, until recently, river cruises along the Brazos.
High water and the threat of debris has pulled the plug on boat rides until further notice, spokeswoman Melinda Seibert said Monday.
“We evaluate the situation daily, and it’s not looking good,” she added.
She said Waco Tours is offering discounted prices on its classic tours around town to those whose river cruises have had to be canceled.
“We want to make sure they leave Waco happy,” she said. “We’ve taken surveys, and a significant percentage of those who take the classic tour come back and bring a family member or friend. That’s part of our desire, to make Waco a repeat destination. We don’t want them to check the ‘I’ve done Waco box.’ We want triple threats, those who take our river cruises, our Texas experiences and our classic tours that showcase downtown sites.”
Docking facilities around Lake Waco find themselves submerged, tossing a wrench into recreational and dining plans, said Carla Pendergraft, who markets the city of Waco and the Waco Convention Center.
“We’re all disappointed,” she said. “But the lake and the river are involved in flood control, and the safety of people downstream takes precedence over recreation. Even riverwalks along Lake Brazos are under water. There are two dangers: the swiftness of the current and debris floating in the water. A log or whole tree floating down the Brazos would devastate a plastic kayak.”
Even when the water recedes, said Pendergraft, cleanup crews will have their hands full restoring order to the saturated sites around Lake Waco.
“The Corps of Engineers tells me everything definitely will be ready by July 4, and they are optimistically looking at mid-June,” Pendergraft said.