Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sebago Trails Paddling offers kayak rentals by Leah Hoenen

Bill Allen has been exploring paddling destinations around the Windham-Raymond area a lot lately. He’s identified more than 30 places where people can launch kayaks and explore the lakes region and will offer kayak rentals to locals and visitors alike at Sebago Trails Paddling Company starting May 9.

“Windham is the gateway to the lakes region – the largest recreational region in the state, in terms of population at least. There are several lakes, ponds and waterways to paddle in,” said Allen, who has lived in Windham since 2007.

When his grandfather rented cottages and rowboats, Allen learned to row before he graduated into canoes, then kayaks. “People say if you have something you love, you never actually go to work,” said Allen, noting that despite his love of kayaking, the business is still a business.

Allen had pondered the idea of a kayak-rental business for a while. His daughter, Katelyn Allen, also an experienced paddler, worked for a rental company. Father and daughter thought they should combine his business experience with their love for paddling. Things fell right into place when he met Virginia Arsenault, with whom he and Katelyn Allen have incorporated Sebago Trails Paddling Company.

The company’s 37 Perception kayaks have arrived and are a mix of standard single kayaks, double kayaks and sit-on-top styles. Some boats are smaller for smaller paddlers and Allen will offer shorter paddles and a variety of sizes of life jackets.

Allen said the company aims for a soft opening in early May with a grand opening Memorial Day weekend.

“We have a trailer and we will do deliveries,” said Allen. Deliveries within a certain radius and to some public launches will be free, while other fees are yet to be determined. The daily rental fee of $40 includes a kayak, life jacket and paddles. Kayaks will also be available for $200 per week.

Someone who wants to rent, but doesn’t want a delivery can pick up a kayak and accessories and transport their own with Styrofoam rooftop kits available in the store, Allen said.

Renters will be able to pick up other key accessories, such as bug spray, sunscreen and waterproof, floatable containers, in the store.

“These people are going to be renting, so I’m thinking, ‘What are they going to need for today that they forgot or didn’t know they needed,’” he said.

“I’m trying to encourage people who haven’t been before, but would like to go,” said Allen. Sebago Trails Paddling Company will supply kayaks to groups and will teach a class with Windham-Raymond Adult Education this spring. That includes classroom instruction and two sessions of on-site instruction before a group outing.

“Anybody who is afraid it’s a difficult thing or a dangerous thing should give it a try. It’s really easy,” said Allen. “I’ve given lessons to friends who were nervous and concerned about safety. About ten strokes out and they’re saying, ‘This is fun. I want to get my own kayak,’” he said.

Sebago Trails Paddling Company has a website and an active Facebook page, which the company will use to announce weekly specials, including paddling flash mobs, which Allen expects to hold at various launch sites around the area. The website and Facebook link to Allen’s GoogleMaps page, showing launch sites around Windham and Raymond. So far, there are 35 sites shown, each with a short description of the launch and surrounding area.

Allen said there are plenty of places to go where paddlers can avoid motorized boat traffic and many locations that are safe and friendly for novice paddlers. “Sebago Lake is so big it has lots of motorized traffic, but it also has lots of little places that are quieter that motorboats can’t reach,” he said.

“Some charge a fee, but most are free. Some are very rustic and some have limited parking, but there are access points. Some make you think of northern Maine,” said Allen. His experience paddling the area shows as he describes the scenery of various locations, down to the types of turtles he sees and birds he hears. 

Allen grew up in Monmouth and was an owner of HomeVision video rentals. “I spent a lot of time here. Windham was always one of my favorite communities. It’s nice to live and work here,” he said.

“The rental of kayaks is the foundations of an organization I hope to grow,” said Allen, referring to many walking and biking opportunities throughout the greater Windham area, including the Mountain Division Trail and Sebago to the Sea trails. “We want to be the leading paddle outfitter, and cycling is possible in the future.”

Keep up with Sebago Trails Paddling Company on Facebook, or find it online at Call 894-4696 for more information.

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