Jim and Sally Wood took over the Santa Fe Canoe Outpost in High Springs more than 30 years ago.
Back in 1990, they said it was a big deal when they purchased the business and bought 25 Grumman canoes and two kayaks.
On Wednesday, friends, former staff and fellow paddlers stopped by the outpost to enjoy some gumbo and to wish the Wood family luck as they prepare to step away from the 2.5-acre business tucked along the Santa Fe River just off US Highway 441.
In August, the City of High Springs struck a deal with the Wood family and made them an offer on the business and property, which includes the three-bedroom, one-bath house, plus 75 canoes, 50 kayaks and 20 paddle boards.
“Paddles, life jackets, everything,” Jim said about the deal that will net his family $600,000. But he says money was not the prime motivation for their business.
“The people were the biggest part of it,” he said. “It was never about the money.”
The Woods are entering semi-retirement as Jim, now 72, steps away from the outpost and continues his real estate business.
He said the success of their operation all came back to the volume of repeat customers and referrals visitors made to their friends and families.
“I feel very, very fortunate,” he said as he welcomed former employees and longtime friends to a going away party less than 24 hours before he and his wife prepared to sign the final sale papers on Thursday morning.
Outpost manager Johnny Fowler worked with the Wood family for 28 years.
“There’s been a lot of happy years, good memories,” Fowler said, adding that his favorite trip is the moonlight paddle. “You are out there with the people, instead of just dropping them off.”
The Dyer family from Gainesville are repeat customers. Vickie Dyer said she first started coming to the outpost more than 10 years ago when her kids were in middle school.
On Wednesday, they became the Woods’ last customers by chance.
Vickie said she will make a special photo album to mark the occasion.
“This is such a good final memory,” she said. Her son John and his wife Kristin agreed that they were lucky to get one last trip in.
“I remember the first time,” Vickie said. “My kids were in middle school and said, ‘Let’s go canoeing!’ And every time I paddled I went to the bank of the river.”
Jim laughed at her story and said he remembered: “It was on the blooper reel.”
Edwin McCook, a land management specialist at Suwannee River Water Management District, stopped by at the end of his shift to shake Jim’s hand and wish him luck. A former employee from 20 years ago did the same.
When the Woods stopped to pose for a photo near the stacked Grumman canoes, they commented about how long the water crafts have lasted—more than 40 years now.
Employee Gwen McDaniel will continue to work for Jim at the real estate office as she has for the last eight years.
“We work as one big family here,” McDaniel said, adding that she is most going to miss seeing the fog that comes off the river in the morning. “It’s gorgeous.”
Jim is happy that the City of High Springs is going to continue to run the outpost.
“Our town is about this river,” he said. “Keeping it clean and undeveloped.”
According to City of High Springs spokesperson Kevin Mangan, the daily management of the outpost will be a team effort between the High Springs Parks and Recreation staff and Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures (AOA).
“AOA is currently handling rentals for Poe Springs Park, among others, and will handle a majority of the operations for the outpost,” he said.
Mangan said a Request for Proposals (RFP) looking for a management company went out on Tuesday and will close at noon on Dec. 2.