Who better to talk about the finer details of kayaking in the Hershey Harrisburg Region than the folks who run countless tours every year? Ben and Debra Miller - co-owners of Cocoa Kayak Rentals of Hershey - took some time out of their busy float schedule to take our "Kayak Quiz." Here's what they had to say!
Q: In your experience, what do first-time kayakers seem to be most impressed with on a trip?
A: The level of customer service, organization, professionalism in a small town outfitter. Once on the water, they are often amazed at the thriving ecosystem, a natural setting so close to Hersheypark and the concert venues. The wildlife and undisturbed tree-lined banks are relaxing. Many people are also impressed by how quickly they acquire paddling and other kayaking skills on a gentle creek.
Q: What is your favorite time of year to kayak?
A: We love to begin kayaking as early as March, the scenery is different before Spring kicks in. A hot day is Debra's favorite kayak trip though, "I love when a splash or a walk in the water is cooling and therapeutic." Ben prefers cooler days and higher, rougher waters in early spring for a little more action and skill. The great thing is that every season or even after a rain, the creek has something new to offer.
Q: Do you have a favorite spot?
A: The water features at Fiddler's Elbow is always a favorite spot both to kayak and to watch kayaks navigate from above on the bridge. It makes for great photos for customers. We also love the Swatara State Park, just above our Northern Run. It gets us outside of our typical routines and has a few more elevation changes to keep things interesting.
Q: What advice do you have for first-time or novice kayakers?
A: Kayaking doesn't have to be in rapids doing Eskimo rolls. Recreational kayaking is easy for almost everyone the first time. Also, make sure your outfitter knows your level of experience so he/she can put you in the right boat and trip choice for you. Then, get your balance and practice paddling, steering and turning! A gentle creek like the Swatara is a great place to learn as it is not fast or threatening.
Q: Advice for skilled kayakers looking to explore here?
A: The Swatara Creek has incredible beauty and you will experience being inside an ecosystem. Plus, every waterway can be different any day. High water, low water and obstacles add to what kayakers can learn to navigate. The key is to challenge your skills incrementally so that you are not overwhelmed and don't panic. The Red Cross offers a good boat safety course that can be helpful for people of all skill level, but even more so for the experienced kayaker who may need to assist others in an emergency.
Q: Do you have a favorite story you can share about a group or family that’s toured with you?
A: We have a number of groups who now do annual events. Our Fourth of July group dresses in costumes and grows size and creativity every year. Debra has an annual event with her friends from the local area and her college friends, which ends at Cocoa Landing for a BBQ and beverages. Ben loves the challenge of a full moon float on a clear night and an overnight camp out on a river island.
-- Don't forget our friends at Blue Mountain Outfitters! Specializing in equipment rentals plus tours of the Susquehanna River and nearby creeks. --
Q: Other features to highlight?
A1: One fun addition is how much kids (ages 9-14) enjoy this level of kayaking. It is a great family bonding activity and provides a much needed breather after a hectic day at Hersheypark.
A2: We are also so thrilled there are several Bald Eagle nests along our trip choices. A decade ago, Bald Eagles were endangered, but now they are starting to thrive. About 90% of our customers see a Bald Eagle flying above them on the creek. It is something that few of us thought we would see in our lifetime, but the local eagles seem to welcome Cocoa Kayakers as do many Great Blue Herons, Egrets, turtles, deer and the occasional fox.