A longtime tubing and rafting company’s days on the Chattahoochee River may be numbered after losing a permit to operate at Powers Island.
Shoot The Hooch has operated on the river since 2001, while a competitor, Nantahala Outdoor Center, has offered watercraft rentals of canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards since late 2014.
But in February, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA) Superintendent Ann Honious ruled that only a single business could provide watercraft rentals there.
“We found that the visitor experience for the rentals, watercraft, and tubes was negatively impacted by those two different types of businesses,” she said.
That means an application by Shoot The Hooch to continue providing gear from that location was rejected.
Honious said concession use authorizations (CUA) that operate on National Park Service land are limited in their operations.
She said businesses like Shoot The Hooch with annual revenues higher than $25,000 must operate outside the park and shuttle their customers to the river.
Concessionaires currently holding a CUA on the river include guided fishing trips, a dog walking company, and several businesses offering watercraft rentals, including Shoot The Hooch.
“The key with a commercial use authorization is that your clients do not meet you at that location and leave your car there,” Honious said. “The operators need to bring their clients to the park.”
Shoot The Hooch had its operations suspended in 2022 for two weeks when a park ranger determined the company was staging its operations at Powers Island. The CUA has always required companies to load customers and gear onto shuttle buses and deliver them to the park, Honious said. The customers are not supposed to park at the CRNRA property.
The Hooch owner Bill Odrey said they had not been told to stop how Shoot The Hooch operated until last year.
Kevin Garden, an attorney representing Shoot The Hooch, said concession contracts do not give exclusive rights to the area. Nantahala Outdoor Center operated on one side of the parking lot and Shoot The Hooch on the other side.
“We [Shoot the Hooch] were doing it long before they ever got there. But we’ve been doing it for eight years with them,” he said.
Garden said the permit issue began after Odrey complained about conditions at Powers Island, with nails and screws sticking up out of steps and a landing. Odrey said NPS staff asked his age and suggested he consider a minority partner for his business.
“All we want to do is improve things on the river because why shouldn’t people be able to enjoy the river safely?” Odrey questioned.
Honious said Shoot The Hooch can get a CUA to operate from the park’s Abbotts Bridge unit. Odrey said insufficient parking and inadequate maintenance of the boat ramp area puts his inflatable rafts and tubes at risk, making it unusable.
“It’s really tricky up there because of the conditions. There’s no parking up there. The roads aren’t maintained into the park,” he said.
Another problem he said was that it’s a great fishing spot and anglers don’t want watercraft running into their lines. Honious countered that Chattahoochee River Tubing has been successfully operating from that area.
The park system will also issue authorizations for watercraft rentals originating from private property along the Chattahoochee River, she said.
Shoot The Hooch started watercraft rentals from Roswell’s Azalea Park, across the river from Sandy Springs, in 2001. Odrey said they bought the name Shoot The Hooch from its original operator. The company also expanded to Powers Island at the same time.
But Roswell staff disqualified Shoot The Hooch’s bid renewal in 2020. The city determined it didn’t meet the requirement that it must submit at least three similar contracts it had in the previous five years. That was despite the company operating under contract with the city for 18 years.
Nantahala Outdoor Center won that contract in 2020 on a 3-2 vote by Roswell City Council.