It’s 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning at the headquarters of the Dan River Company, and the place is buzzing with activity. A group of a dozen employees from a Greensboro financial firm — with a number of their children in tow — are filling out paperwork at a long, rectangular table inside the spacious welcome center.
Dave Hoskins, founder of the Dan River Company, is working with customers to ensure their paperwork is in order. Dale Swanson and Ben Kelble, two of Hoskins’ employees — along with several of their colleagues — load a custom trailer with canoes and kayaks to prepare for their first sojourn of the day carrying passengers to a remote access point some six miles upstream.
Kelble explains that two vans with trailers in tow will make runs every hour on the hour. Canoers and kayakers will be in the water as early as 10:30 a.m. and allowed to remain on the river until 5:30 p.m.
The season for Dan River Company runs from April 1 to Nov. 1, but the summer months are the peak time for the business, Kelble says. Despite the growing popularity of Stokes County as an outdoor lover’s paradise, patrons of the Dan River Company enjoy relative solitude on their six-mile journey down the river.
“The stretch we operate on, we don’t have a whole lot of other traffic because the access point is kind of sketchy,” Kelble said. “From the Hanging Rock access down to Moore’s Park access, you see a lot of people that don’t come with us. We’re the only company that operate on this stretch.”
The rates are reasonable — $35 per kayak and $55 per canoe — which makes for a fun, affordable family outing, Kelble said.
The first wave of patrons load up the two vans and begin the trek up Highway 8 to the company’s access point. Upon arrival, patrons get a boating safety tutorial from Dale Swanson.
“We have about 200 CFS more water today than we normally have — that’s cubic feet per second,” Swanson explains. “So we’ve actually got about triple the amount of water that we normally have.”
With faster moving water, kayakers and canoers must be even more cognizant of river hazards.
“If you come out of your boat either on purpose or by accident, roll over on your back,” Swanson instructs. “Have your life jacket on — today is a mandatory life jacket day. Roll out of your boat onto your back, feet pointed downstream, toes and nose out of the water.”
Swanson tells patrons to float on their back downstream until they reach “slack water.”
“Don’t put your feet down,” he says. “If your foot gets stuck, you’ll have the entire pressure of the river bearing down on you.”
Another hazard for kayakers and canoers are strainers, which are defined as obstructions that water can flow through but boats can’t navigate.
“Turn your boat around sideways, roll it upstream and roll it underneath whatever is there,” Swanson says. “If you see an obstruction, turn your boat and paddle. If you get stopped and you have water pressure building up on you, tip your boat so the water is hitting the bottom of the boat instead of the side of the boat.”
Swanson goes on to share general boating tips, such as the importance of keeping your canoe or kayak in the middle of the river and pointed downstream.
“If you get ahead of your group, turn your boat around and paddle against the current,” Swanson continues. “Trying to hold your position while you’re boat is pointed downstream, trying to stay in one place is going to be very difficult and it’s a lot easier to do and it’s possible to do if you turn your boat upstream.”
Finally, Swanson cautions patrons to avoid eddies, which normally occur behind a rock or a bend in the river. Then, patrons make their way down the dirt embankment and launch themselves into the river.
Meanwhile, Hoskins, who remained back at headquarters off Flinchum Road, reflects on the success the company has enjoyed the past 10 years. Hoskins said the business has far exceeded his expectations.
“The family and friends that have helped me put this together — it’s phenomenal,” he said. “I would have to say, I’m biased but I would have to say I’m probably one of the premier outfitters in the Piedmont of North Carolina. I’ve got some of the best equipment, the best people and I’ve definitely got the best river.”
Hoskins firmly believes the Dan River Company can become one of the anchors of a thriving tourism economy in Stokes. “My vision is to have something similar to Boone, Banner Elk or even Mast General Store in Valle Crucis,” he says. “This is a beautiful area. It has very limited roads so you’re not going to get a lot of traffic. It’s definitely not built for industry.
“I see [the tourism economy] growing,” Hoskins continues. “We’ve got a state park that’s continuing to grow and it’s rated one of the best in North Carolina.”
Hoskins then walks over to a new building on the property and describes a few upcoming changes at Dan River Company.
“It’s a 20 [foot] by 16 [foot] retail center,” Hoskins says, standing inside the structure. “We’ll move the canoe and kayak operation to the upstream part of the property. I’ve got a new access with a [US Army] Corps of Engineers permit. Everything’s up and on board. Everything will be on the upstream part of the property — the changing rooms, rinse-off showers, bathroom facilities and the retail center.”
“The large building will be turned into an eating establishment,” he continues. “We’re hoping we can get approval from the [Stokes County] commissioners to serve beer and wine.”
The Dan River Company’s main building has been utilized to host a number of community events in the past 10 years. Hoskins plans to increase the number of events held at the headquarters and rent the facility out for special occasions, like wedding receptions.
“What I’d like to do is turn this building into a really nice eating establishment that everyone in the county can appreciate,” he says.
As Hoskins speaks enthusiastically about his vision of the future, Kelble and Swanson patiently await the arrival of their first kayaker and canoer at the dock — just another Saturday morning at the Dan River Company.