Traverse City News and Events

River Tour Operator To Increase Fees To City, Make Park Improvements

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 6, 2020

A local event organizer who brings thousands of visitors down the Boardman River each summer will pay higher fees to the city to continue doing so – and will also invest in public access and kayak upgrades to American Legion Park.

Traverse City commissioners will vote tonight (Monday) to approve a revised contract with Troy Daily, owner of Paddle For Pints and Kayak, Bike & Brew, two companies that offer local brewery tours incorporating kayak trips down the lower Boardman River. Daily has had a contract with the city since 2017 to run his events, paying an escalating annual fee designed to mitigate any potential park impacts from tour stops, including at Hull Park and Union Street Dam. The fee was $8,000 for 2017 and 2018, $9,000 for 2019 and is planned to come in at $10,000 for 2020. As part of the agreement, Daily also pays for public trash receptacles and portajohn facilities at the Union Street Dam site, where kayakers exit the river.

However, the looming construction of the $18-22 million FishPass project at the Union Street Dam will soon impact river traffic north of Boardman Lake – not only for Daily’s tours, but all recreational users. City staff initially planned to shut down portions of the Boardman River during FishPass construction, which could start as soon as this year and last two paddling seasons, according to a memo from Parks and Recreation Superintendent Derek Melville. Daily approached city staff and proposed instead that a new exit point be created for river users at American Legion Park, located at the corner of Cass and Washington streets.

“There’s not another option for anyone to use the river commercially or recreationally because of FishPass,” Daily says. “You’d only to be able to use Boardman Lake. Creating an exit at American Legion Park would allow everybody to continue using the river (during construction).”

Creating a river exit at American Legion Park would require an estimated $4,000 in improvements to the park, including the construction of public stairs down to the river, a kayak ramp, and removal of some invasive shrubs and small trees. As part of the updated agreement commissioners will vote on tonight, Daily will cover those improvement costs. Upgrades would take place this spring under the oversight of Parks and Recreation – which supports the proposal – with the transition from Union Street Dam to American Legion Park as an exit point for kayakers occurring as soon as FishPass construction begins.

Two metered spaces on Cass Street would be bagged as temporary loading zone/staging areas for kayaks, available on a first-come, first-served basis for both public and commercial use. Daily would pay the bagging fees for the meters, estimated at a few thousand dollars per season. When repairs start to the Cass Street bridge – another major city project on the horizon – the loading zone area would be moved to Washington Street.

The updated contract, valid through 2023, also significantly increases Daily’s annual fees paid to the city. Instead of paying $10,000 this year, Daily would pay $40,000 – with costs escalating five percent each year afterward, culminating in $46,305 in 2023. City Clerk Benjamin Marentette says the sharp increase is to cover Daily’s expanded use of city property, with American Legion Park now being added to the list.

“His entire business operation really requires use of city property, and there’s certainly profit he’s making, so it makes sense the company would offset some of the costs we have to maintain the parks,” says Marentette, adding that the annual fees are deposited into the city’s general fund for parks maintenance. “We feel it’s fair to him, as he gets to continue to operate his business and generate a significant amount of income, and also for the city, to receive a portion of that to maintain the parks.”

Daily agrees and says he is comfortable with the increased fees. “We want to be able to give back to the city and not create any additional expenses, and also for the public to be able to use (the improved amenities) either temporarily or long-term,” he says.

Though Marentette says his office has periodically received complaints about rowdy or drunk kayakers on the Boardman River, none of those complaints have originated with Daily’s tours. “When we’ve investigated, we’ve always concluded it’s not Troy’s patrons,” Marentette says. “It’s other groups of folks. We’ve had nothing but a positive experience working with him…we’ve gotten that feedback from our police department as well.”

Daily says he’s taken steps to reduce the impact of his events, including limiting the kayak potions of tours to two brewery stops, including food with beer tastings, and issuing drawstring backpacks to tour participants. The small bags restrict the number of items participants can bring on the river with them – reducing the risk of a kayak dumping and extra towels, shoes, or other items falling into the Boardman – and are encouraged for use as trash storage for litter that participants find while on tour. Daily estimates the tours have a “six-figure” economic impact on local hotels, restaurants, and breweries, and says the company gives back by donating to groups like TART Trails.

Founder Norm Fred of Boardman River Clean Sweep (BRCS), a nonprofit that organizes annual clean-ups of the Boardman, is supportive of the city continuing Daily's contract. Fred says that in addition to donating to BRCS and participating in annual clean-up events, Daily has “his crew give a safety and ‘keep our river clean’ instruction talk" before every tour. “The trash we find on the river doesn’t come from his customers,” Fred says. “It comes from the homeless, fishermen, and riverside tourists. If anything, the river is cleaner by having his customers there.”

Should other event organizers try to replicate Daily’s business and bring similar events to city parks or the Boardman River – a scenario Marentette says could happen based on Paddle For Pints’ success, though such start-ups would face similar city contract requirements – Fred believes they will need to follow Daily’s model to be sustainable. “If that many people paddled the river without leadership and control, the river would be destroyed in short order,” he says. “His company and others like it are the only way to keep the river clean and protected as paddle sports usage increases.”

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