outsiders usa paddleboarders
YOGA — Paddleboarders on a tour guided by Outsiders USA practice yoga on their boards in the spring run at Blue Spring State Park. Outsiders is one of at least a half-dozen locally owned small businesses that are being negatively affected by rules designed to protect the out-of-state concessionaire at Blue Spring and DeLeon Springs state parks. PHOTO COURTESY OUTSIDERS USA


Changes to the access at French Landing, instigated by Guest Services Inc., will harm small businesses such as our paddleboard-tour company, along with many other locally owned and locally operated tour companies.

When I first heard about changes to the Sugar Mill at DeLeon Springs, my heart sank. Since I was a small child, we’ve often enjoyed long, warm days at the springs followed by making pancakes with all the fixings on the griddle at the Sugar Mill.

The ladies there, having seen us frequent the place for literally decades, always said hello and remembered us over the years. Service was stellar, the food delicious, and the memories made there unforgettable.

After realizing the restaurant wasn’t being closed down, but rather was changing hands, my concerns changed and grew. Now I’m mad.

My business has been serving our local community — along with many visiting families from out of state and from other counties — to help people experience the beauty of the local waterways.

We’ve taken first-time paddleboarders, families of seven with young kids, and many others on paddleboarding tours from French Landing and at DeLeon Springs.

Having a public boat ramp accessible to us so close to Blue Spring has been amazing. It made trying paddleboarding accessible to first-timers at a gorgeous location.

People delight in our small, intimate tours, where we often see manatees, otters and so much more. To hear that Guest Services Inc. has now prohibited access to any other commercial tour vendors has me infuriated.

There are many local businesses, not only in Orange City, but also here in DeLand, that depend on access to this boat ramp for their livelihood.

It’s not just the small, local businesses that are being harmed by an out-of-state corporation steamrolling our ability to do business. So many people who had the ability to enjoy these waterways will no longer be able to. With the limited parking at Blue Spring and limited rental options with educated tour guides, this will drastically reduce the number of people able to enjoy tours on the St. Johns River and at Blue Spring.

I will be contacting this new concessionaire, and I hope that they are amenable to creating concession agreements with local businesses that have existing operations at this location. However, I can’t say I’m hopeful about their answer.

We, and many other locals, have been doing our part to expand awareness of the joy and importance of connecting with nature and the outdoors. We believe that connection will lead to greater awareness of the environmental challenges we face here, and a greater desire to be good stewards.

It’s time for our local businesses to come together and stop this corporation from creating a monopoly on access to these public waterways. We all offer something different and provide unique experiences that are now made impossible at these two closest gems.

— Ran, a member of the Downtown DeLand Community Redevelopment Agency, is a managing partner with Outsiders USA, which is based at 112 S. Woodland Blvd. in Downtown DeLand.


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