Looking out over the creeks and marshes, Bryan Russell said there is nothing more peaceful than a few hours in a kayak out on the calm waters in and around the Cherry Grove Inlet.
Russell, from the Charlotte area, said he’s been coming to kayak and fish at Cherry Grove for about two years, just before the Covid pandemic hit. He is one of thousands who come to kayak, paddleboard or just hike along the trails near the inlet every week.
The area has been a focal point in the rise of local ecotourism attractions that have exploded in recent years. Ecotourism is generally defined as any specific outdoor activity. Locally, this usually includes kayaking, paddleboarding, surfing, hiking, horseback riding and fishing.
Putting his kayak in at the Cherry Grove Heritage Preserve launch area, Russell said he loves to fish and just enjoy the serenity of the area. The Preserve launch is a very popular spot for individuals and local tourism companies as well.
Wyatt Todd, owner of Koko Pelli Surf Camp, had just assisted one of many daily kayak tour groups into the marsh for a two-hour tour. He said business has never been better for his and a number of other kayak and paddleboard companies.
“It’s been crazy,” Todd said. “We’ve been doing this for nine years and we have seen at least a 30 percent growth in business each year.”
Even during the height of the Covid pandemic, Todd said people still came to the inlet area for individual or group rentals.
“Outdoor activities boomed with Covid,” he said. “People felt safer outside and now they have gotten used to it and are telling their family and friends about it.”
Todd’s company does kayak and paddleboard rentals as well as providing tours of the local marshes, creeks and Waites Island.
“It’s a great way for people to get outside, get some exercise, learn about nature and just have fun,” Todd said. “On our tours, we not only let folks kayak for a few hours but we teach them about the inlet, the marshes and the wildlife along the way.”
He added that kayaks are more popular than paddleboards though more and more are beginning to try them too.
Kayaking has become so popular that Todd says he’s having a tough time getting new equipment.
“We ordered some new ones in January and can’t get them until August,” he said.
Todd’s company is just one of six that use the same launch every day, he added.
“Everybody is seeing record numbers these days,” he said.
The Sharpe family from Ohio had read about the eco tours online and decided to give it a try.
After getting a short lecture on the do’s and don’ts of kayaking, each member put on their life jackets, picked up their paddles then slowly made their way into the creek to wait on their tour. Most of the family decided on dual kayaks to make maneuvering a little easier.
Ken Sharpe said he couldn’t think of a better way to spend a summer morning with his family than taking a kayak tour.
“We had to convince a couple of the younger ones,” he laughed. “But now they’re the most enthusiastic of the bunch.”