According to local wilderness outfitter Wesley Hendley, everyone should see Watson Mill Pond in nearby George L. Smith Park from a kayak.
"I grew up in Twin City, and my family has always come to George L. Smith Park to picnic, camp, boat, and fish," Hendley said. "It is a wonderful, beautiful place to see from a boat. I just felt like everyone should have an opportunity to do that."
Hendley's company Mill Pond Kayak offers guided tours of the 412-acre cypress-lined pond.
"This is a great outing for school groups, scout troops, church groups, company picnics, reunions, or family and friends," Hendley said. "We'll equip you with the kayaks, paddles, vests, and some basic instruction. Then we'll take you out for approximately 2-1/2 hours to explore some of the ten miles of blackwater trails on the mill pond."
Hendley started the company this past September after selling his interest in a sheet metal manufacturing company located in Twin City.
"Eight years ago, I started the company with my brother-in-law and a friend," Hendley said. "My brother-in-law passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack a year ago. He was young, and it was quite a shock, and very devastating for our whole family. At that point, I began to examine my own life, and decided I wanted to spend more time with my wife and our two children, so I sold my interest in the business. I had worked in the industry since graduating from the University of Georgia in the early 1980's."
A soft spoken man with a warm personality and a degree in zoology, Hendley's enthusiasm for nature and the "jewel" that is in our own back yard led him to pursue a second career as an outfitter.
"I have always done outdoor types of activities with my family," he said. "We have done a lot of camping, canoeing, basically anything outdoors. I realized that there wasn't anyone leading guided tours in this immediate area whether it was of ponds or rivers. I just felt like there was an opportunity. "
Hendley has 15 kayaks that can transport 20 people. His clients have ranged from couples, to families, church and youth groups. He chose kayaks because they are more stable than canoes, and much easier to get in and out of.
"As a scout leader, I have been in more canoes than I can count," said Twin City resident Bill Breedlove. "I had no idea how much more stable a kayak would be. You don't have to work as hard or be as conscious of your balance. It is completely safe, and so effortless. It is perfect for children and seniors."
Breedlove has worked with Hendley for years in their church boy scouting program at Twin City First United Methodist Church.
"Wesley has been such a strong and devoted member of the scouting program, and so willing to do the outdoor activities," he said. "This is an extension of that, and a testament to his love of nature and providing the means for sharing it with others."
Since opening in September, Hendley has taken out many who have been thrilled with the experience.
"This past November, we booked Wesley to take my family out for my son's ninth birthday," said Tressie Wiggins from Lyons. "I lost my husband a few years ago, and birthdays have become even more special for us. We could not have had a better time. He was so kind, and sweet, with a heart of gold."
"He doesn't want you to lift a finger, he just wants you to have a great time, and enjoy the nature that is around you," she said. "It was over and beyond our expectations. We are going to do it again this summer."
Hendley's operation is very organized and well thought out. From the retrofitted trailer that holds the boats and equipment to the company's marketing materials, Hendley is pursuing his passion of sharing nature with a strong business plan.
"The one component that has been a little trial-by-error has been marketing," he said. "I am continuing to look for the right mix, but I am able to see how different types of marketing compliment one another. Ultimately, I want everyone who wants to kayak to have that opportunity. I have tried to make my rate schedule very affordable. Depending on the size of the group, it can be as little as ten dollars per person."
Hendley's 12-year-old neighbor Austin Scarboro offers to help Hendley whenever he needs it. "I love to come and kayak, and Mr. Wesley will bring me when he can," Scarboro said. "It is just awesome, and I've learned how to help with the kayaks."
Hendley is expanding his operation to include tours of the Ogeechee and Ohoopee Rivers. "There is enough interest now to do that," he said. "I think it is a logical step. Both are such beautiful rivers. I am really looking forward to regularly guiding tours on each."
George L. Smith Park superintendant Russell Hinson said Hendley's operation has been a nice addition to the park. "We don't rent kayaks or provide guide services, so certainly Wesley's company is a wonderful addition to what folks can do when they get here," Hinson said. "I have known him now for about two years, and he really does a very good job."
To learn more, visit the company's Web site at www.millpondkayak.com.