By Gene Stanley/Correspondent
Josh Tidwell was tired of being laid off. A victim of corporate downsizing no less than three times, he decided to take his efforts elsewhere – home.
Tidwell combined one of his hobbies – kayaking – with his neighbor, Big Wills Creek, and has opened Etowah County’s newest outfitter shop.
Calling it Big Wills Outfitters, Tidwell and wife Leslie, his sister Sonya Wright and her husband Wayne started the business and run the actual shop at their property on the banks of the creek on Wesson Gap Road, on the Duck Springs side.
“It’s a full service operation,” Tidwell said with a laugh.
But it’s the truth.
For a chance to see some of Etowah County’s beautiful rock formations, some of which hardly anyone has seen, all you need to do is show up, sign a waiver, pay your fee and you’re ready to kayak down a six-mile stretch of the creek which feeds the backwaters on the western end of Gadsden.
And don’t fret too much if you forget an essential. The shop sells everything from sunglasses to coolers.
Go park your car and you’re ready to hit the water. But even though their business is based on the southern end of the creek, it’s not that end the business features.
Instead, they take vanloads of people to an unloading spot. There are even steps on the bank. And employees even get the boat in the water for you.
You then glide down a stretch of creek that hugs the cliffs on the northern side of the ridge that Attalla and Reese City are perched on.
“Of the 80 miles this creek runs, these six are the prettiest of any,” Tidwell said. “I’ve kayaked over half of it.”
Get out of your car, get in a van and be driven to the launch point, some six-plus miles northward on Duck Springs Road.
At the launch point, you offload, get in a boat and kayak. Even Tidwell said it’s not a true challenge to ride the Class 1 creek.
“A white water guy won’t even touch it,” he said. “But there are some dips and eddies to give the thrill of the ride to a more inexperienced kayaker. But it’s got a good moving current, enough to make an enjoyable ride.”
There are also some narrow spots on the stretch of the creek, making it impassable for most boats.
Last year, the outfitters’ inaugural summer brought in some nice weekend money.
There are 40 kayaks and Tidwell said that there was a Saturday or two when all 40 were being transited somewhere, via creek or via trailer.
“The biggest days, we probably had 75-100 people between here and there,” he said. “But that didn’t happen very often.”
Business will pick up in April, but between now and then, Tidwell runs a one-man operation, saying it’s best to call for reservations.
Come April, Big Wills Outfitters will be open to the public, Wednesday through Sunday, beginning at 9 a.m., weather permitting.
“The water has been too high to safely kayak but it’s never been too low,” said Tidwell, who has lived on the creek for a decade.