Paul and Barb Hummer had to travel more than 30 minutes from their hotel room in Myrtle Beach to go kayaking in the Waccamaw River here Thursday morning.
They said they didn’t mind the long distance, because it was the closest outfitter they could find near the Grand Strand that offered a quick kayak lesson and ecotour of the Cyprus swamp.
“We wanted to do something environmentally friendly, and the others just rented kayaks and looked too commercial,” Barb Hummer said after completing a two-hour tour with Black River Outdoors that operates from Pawleys Island.
Richard Laurent, their guide and the company’s owner, wants to change that and is asking for a permit to operate at Enterprise landing in Socastee.
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But the problem is, Horry County doesn’t offer commercial permits at any of its 31 boat landings, and many are not conducive to the general paddling public looking for soft earth from which to launch kayaks.
The end result is that many tourists and locals are going to Georgetown County for a morning kayak on the river, have some lunch afterward and do a little shopping.
It’s not just costing the county in terms of recreation opportunities, but in tourism dollars, Laurent said.
“The southern part of the county in particular is really lacking in a place where residents can even launch kayaks and canoes,” Laurent said.
“Horry County has amazing power boat launch spots. But very little that are good for launching canoes and kayaks,” Laurent said.
Laurent, along with April O’Leary of the Waccamaw Riverkeepers and water sports enthusiast Trenton Ventura appealed to a council committee last week to rethink its restrictions on boat ramps.
Ventura, a native of Socastee, said these water sport recreations including paddle boarding are one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S.
“Myrtle Beach is one of the fastest growing communities in the nation. We’re just going to have more and more boaters here, more and more people looking to do water sports and recreation, looking to surf, kayak and paddleboard and looking to explore our Waccamaw Blue River Trail,” Ventura said. “We’ve got some of the nicest scenic waters in the state.”
Some county councilmen are skeptical of the idea, concerned that it will open a Pandora’s Box and that more commercial venues will want to operate at the boat landings.
There’s also the issue of parking.
“The main problem I’ve heard from people, is there are 15 or 20 kayakers, individuals with parked cars that don’t have boats behind them and all the spaces are taken up with just cars,” said Johnny Vaught, Horry County councilman.
“That’s where we have to draw the line, because those are basically made for launching power boats,” Vaught said of the ramp parks.
Councilman Paul Prince also cautioned that it could crowd boat landings, and said they will be careful in their decision.
The committee told county staffers to study the issue and bring it back for discussion at a later meeting.
Laurent’s operation does not operate at the public boat ramps, he says the county told the outfitters to leave about three years ago.
The largest tours conducted by Black River Outdoors is for 20 people, who Laurent says are usually families or couples in about five vehicles.
Laurent says his guides would police the parking to make sure at least three cars take up one space.
He’s also offered to pay for a kayak launch area away from the power boats and maintain it at Enterprise landing, so that it could also be used by the general public.
“All we want in return is a permit to launch there,” Laurent said. “We would provide a service for everyone in the county who wants to launch there.”
The boat ramps are not optimal launching areas, because the concrete is hard on kayaks and canoes, especially when used commercially several times a week, Laurent said.
He is proposing that some rocks be moved to make way for a sandy beach area, which they would maintain with additional sand when needed to prevent erosion.
O’Leary said the riverkeepers already maintain and keep 21 boat ramp areas clean of trash, and she said that kayak operators are a “strong partner in keeping it clean.”
Steve Gosnell, assistant county administrator, says the county has not allowed commercial use of the ramps for 15 years.
“There’s more impact than just moving the rocks,” Gosnell said. “Obviously, they take up parking and there are times there is not enough parking at Enterprise as well.”
Gosnell said the county council was asked in the past to close Peachtree landing to power boats and turn it into a kayak landing area, but that the council rejected the idea.