CLARION - A "paddle share" service might be coming to Clarion as soon as next spring. Pending approval from the Clarion Borough Council, Tom Switzer hopes to start a kayak and paddleboard rental service at the Toby boat launch.
"It's just a service that lets people who wouldn't normally have access to the waterway -- it gives them access," said Switzer, pastor at Grace Community Church in Curllsville. "It opens up the Clarion River to some people that wouldn't normally be able to go."
Called "Go Paddle PA," Switzer's idea calls for interested renters to go online to his website and rent a kayak or a paddleboard.
The renter would then receive a code to open a lock in the rental station, located at the Toby boat launch, allowing the renter to access their boat.
Rentals would last for a full day. When finished with their rental, a renter would return the boat and lock the rental station again.
Switzer said his goal for Go Paddle is to open up the river to those who are not able to take advantage of it.
"It's such a great resource to our community but is restricted from a lot of folks. A lot of people don't have access because they don't have a kayak or the ability to get one there," explained Switzer.
A native of the local area, Switzer said the idea for the paddle share came to him during a trip to the Outer Banks he took with his family in 2020.
"On the way down, my wife asked if there was something I wanted to do and I said, I'd really like to try a paddleboard out,'" recalled Switzer.
After arriving and renting two paddleboards for two days, Switzer realized he had stumbled upon an opportunity.
"I liked everything but the rental process," said Switzer. "I felt like it could be automated. That was the gist of the idea."
By the time he got home, the idea for an automated rental had taken hold in Switzer's mind.
To help him with his business plan, Switzer enlisted the help of two local businesses.
Tin Town Metal Works, based in Sligo, will be constructing the metal rental station for Switzer.
"It's an A-frame type station. The boats will go in almost like file folders. They'll slide in sideways and stand up on the end," said Switzer.
The rental station will be movable, allowing Switzer to remove it during the winter.
For kayaks, Switzer will source high performance models from Performance Kayaks in Brookville.
"We want to get pretty high end ones to stand up to the workload a paddle share will put on it," said Switzer.
The higher-end kayaks do not warp when out in the sun and come with a skid plate on the bottom, which allows people who cannot carry them drag them instead.
Paddleboards will come from the Michigan-based Great Lakes Paddleboards, which Switzer says was the closest paddleboard manufacturer he could find.
To begin with, Switzer plans to have six kayaks at the rental station with space for two more. He said these he is leaving these two spaces open for potentially renting them as kayak storage.
Switzer is also considering a membership service if the paddle service becomes something people use often.
"We would cut them a special deal," he said. "They could play monthly and use the station as they desired. We don't have that set in stone yet."
One aspect of the paddle share Switzer has thought deeply about is the safety of renters.
"We don't want to put people in a position where they will be unsafe or harmed in any way," stressed Switzer.
To protect himself from liabilities, Switzer has insurance. Renters will also have to sign a waiver.
Switzer is also going further, however. Lifejackets will be provided for renters. He also stated he will not rent during bad weather or if the river is too high or too fast.
"I'll close down rentals and pay back whoever had them reserved or give them another date because if the water is not safe, I'm not going to allow people on it -- not on my service," stressed Switzer.
Additionally, even though rentals will be all day, Switzer will require them to be brought back before nighttime.
Toby boat launch presented a natural location for Switzer to place the paddle share.
One of the advantages is the smooth current of the Clarion River around the launch. This makes it an ideal place for beginners to learn to kayak or paddleboard.
"There's not much current to speak of," noted Switzer. "You can paddle up and back without any stress or stream. Even inexperienced paddlers find it very simple to navigate."
Toby is also a very central location on the Clarion River.
"You can go upriver towards Millcreek if you want. You can go down towards the dam if you want. Like I said, you have all day to do it," explained Switzer.
If everything goes well for Switzer, then expansion of the paddle share to other areas is a definite possibility.
"Millcreek, up the stream, I could put one," said Switzer. "There's Kahle Lake, a bunch of different locations in the area."
Switzer said the paddle share has received all positive feedback.
"For a lot of people, it's a great opportunity," he said.
One thing he is impressed with is the reception to the idea from the Clarion Borough Council.
"I thought the bureaucratic red tape would be the hardest part," said Switzer. "The borough has been beyond easy to work with. It really showed me Clarion is really friendly to business and they want to encourage that stuff grow."
Switzer sees his business as a way to help grow the Clarion area. He says the community is well suited for people to live and raise families.
The paddle share is part of the effort to bring others around to the good in the community.
"We really want others to see that and buy in as well. Whatever we can do to foster that, we're game for it," said Switzer.
One thing Switzer would like to do is push against the belief rural areas like Clarion do not provide opportunity like other, more urbanized areas do.
"There's plenty of opportunity if you're looking for it and are willing to work to build it," he said. "There's plenty of opportunity here for you to build the life you want, and that's my message to people."
"People are welcome to reach out. I encourage them. I'm looking forward to hearing from the community."