Aug 31, 2023 - Business

Iowa's kayak, canoe shops lose thousands in revenue due to severe drought

Low river levels at Middle Raccoon River at Whiterock Conservancy. Photo: Courtesy of Whiterock

Drought conditions in Iowa have been so severe, local canoe and kayak shops have been unable to rent out equipment this summer, losing thousands of dollars.

Why it matters: Labor Day weekend is expected to drive Iowans outdoors as they soak up the last weeks of summer.

  • But in central Iowa, tributaries like the Raccoon and Skunk Rivers have mostly dried up as the state endures its third year of drought — the longest it's experienced in more than 20 years.
  • It's dangerous for paddlers to go out in low-water levels because they can unexpectedly end up having to walk and drag their kayaks for long periods of time in the heat, Todd Robertson of the Iowa DNR tells Axios.

State of play: Quinten Pfeiffer, owner of Quinnebago Outdoors in Panora, is closing his store and selling his kayaks and canoes after a second summer of equipment sitting unused, he tells Axios.

  • Pfeiffer offered equipment and shuttle services for groups to go down the Middle Raccoon River, but he had to halt those in mid-July last year and in June this year, despite "tons of calls" from interested groups.
  • This week alone, he told 10 different callers he couldn't rent for Labor Day weekend.
  • He estimates he's lost $20,000 to $25,000 in revenue from the drought.

Zoom out: Higher north at Whiterock Conservancy, the river level has been so low that people can walk through the Middle Raccoon River, staffer Misty Conrad tells Axios.

  • Last year they offered rentals for only two and a half months. This year, they didn't offer any at all and have lost thousands in revenue, Conrad says.
  • At Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt along the Skunk River, Polk County Conservation hasn't rented equipment for the majority of the summer and doesn't plan on it until spring 2024, spokesperson Jessica Lown tells Axios.

What's next: Pfeiffer is trying to sell his equipment to places on the eastern side of the state, where Iowans can still canoe and kayak along the larger Mississippi River.


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