AUBURN — Declaring, "the Androscoggin has been reborn," the owner of a Bethel company is opening a kayak and canoe rental business downtown, with boats launching behind Gritty's pub.
"There are wonderful trails along the river, there are now access points. Now we need to make it possible and easy for people to recreate," Jeff Parsons, owner of Bethel Outdoor Adventure & Campground with wife, Pattie, said.
"People will be able to nip down and rent a canoe or a kayak for an hour or two and go have fun on a fun stretch of the river," he said.
Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte, executive director of the Androscoggin Land Trust and a longtime river advocate, reached out to Parsons.
"We've been fielding at our (ALT) office five to 10 calls a week of people looking for boats," LaBonte said. "I think the market's calling for it."
Parsons said the timing worked. After a decades-long effort, the Androscoggin River is clean, and the fishing good. "The river is back," he said.
He credited the city with working quickly to draw up a no-cost contract and ALT for helping with contacts. His new business, Lewiston Auburn Canoe and Kayak Rentals Co., will use city property for an advertising sandwich board on Main Street and for space to launch.
Starting Thursday until the end of August, the business will offer hourly rentals from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. Cost is $20 per hour for a canoe and $15 per hour for a single-paddler kayak, which includes a paddle and life jacket. A three-hour rental secures the kayak or canoe for the whole day.
The company will stock six of each craft.
Parsons hopes to attract locals getting out of work, vacationers and people from away. He's using this as a test season, but is optimistic.
"What is fascinating about that stretch of river is there are real remnants of the industrial history of Auburn," Parsons said. "It's not a pristine wilderness setting, we know that, but it's pretty."
Parsons is originally from England. Twenty years ago, he and Pattie started Bethel Outdoor Adventure & Campground by getting people out on the Androscoggin upriver in self-guided tours.
"We kiss you lightly on the forehead, we throw you out on the river at our location, and you take off. And that's a great adventure," he said. This is "spreading that down to Lewiston-Auburn."
Lewiston Auburn Canoe and Kayak Rentals Co. has an official launch and ribbon cutting Thursday at 12:30 p.m. Parsons is bringing river water from Bethel to sprinkle it on boats here for good luck.
"I think there's a dynamic in, 'Let's try this,'" LaBonte said. "Being able to bring more people to the waterfront, having people who are visiting the community see that type of vibrancy, (those) are going to be the kind of visuals we want visitors and residents to have."
The company isn't the first to encourage people to enjoy the Twin Cities by boat. L.L. Bean offers an Androscoggin River Urban Drift Boat Fishing Day Trip among its custom adventures with a guide, boat, lunch and gear for two for $595.