SAUK CITY - In a summer that was filled with cool temperatures and relatively low water levels, Scott Teuber's business may have been one of the exceptions.
His Wisconsin River Outings canoe rental business on the Wisconsin River saw a 27.5 percent increase in revenue compared to 2008.
Just a few hours from Chicago and Milwaukee, and 20 minutes from Madison, Teuber has taken advantage of his location and the recession.
For $40 a day, his clients can silently paddle the undammed Lower Wisconsin River - home to eagles, herons, deer, smallmouth bass and snaking sandbars that can limit motorized boat travel.
Some take four to seven days to paddle the 92 miles from the Highway 12 bridge to the Mississippi River, but most take day trips lasting three to eight hours.
"The biggest thing is providing a quality product," Teuber, 42, said. "Ninety-nine percent of my customers are out to have a good time and relax."
Business down, with water
The good times, however, weren't as numerous as in past years on some of the state's other popular canoeing and kayaking rivers; many paddle and float-tube businesses reported drops in business that matched the fall of the water line.
Suzanne and Gary Bryant have about two dozen canoes and kayaks but most of the revenue from their 10-year-old business comes from the 300 inner tubes they rent for floats down the Sugar River starting in Albany.
The couple's S&B Tubing has seen steady growth, but this year business was down more than 50 percent compared to last season. Cool temperatures and untimely rains had more to do with the lack of business than the cost of renting a tube, $12 for three hours.
"I was thinking the economy would have helped, but it was the weather," Suzanne Bryant said of the reason for the decline in business. "There was still profit, but this summer was not good compared to summers past."
Drought up north
In northern Wisconsin, drought conditions the last four years have hampered recreational activities on lakes and rivers, according to the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey.
On the South Fork of the Flambeau River northwest of Phillips, David Kelly, who has owned and operated Flambeau Sports for 25 years, said he had "lots" of cancellations and, at times, had to tell customers not to make the trip to Price County.
"It's real tough to do. The business is right there but I tell them what it is," Kelly said. "When you have the water, it's one of the best rivers in the state."
Mike Wild, owner of Wolf River Guides in Langlade County in northeastern Wisconsin, said the low water on the Wolf River and the economy have hurt his business, which specializes in instruction. A one-day course costs about $110.
"The Wolf was as low as it's ever been" said Wild, who has been paddling the river for 20 years and has owned his business since 1997. "For me, the love of teaching is why I do it. If it was for the money, I would have given it up a long time ago."
On the winding Kickapoo River in Vernon County, a lack of flooding meant about average water levels for renting canoes and kayaks out of the Kickapoo Yacht Club in Rockton.
Owner Mike Donovan, a retired Vernon County sheriff's deputy, said weekend rains and the economy resulted in an average year for the business he opened in 2000.
"If the weather holds and the economy doesn't get any worse, I would expect about the same" for next year, he said. "On this river, everything is based on a flood or no flood and rain or no rain on the weekends."
Back on the Wisconsin River, Teuber is also optimistic about the future. When he bought his Boscobel business in 2003, it had one location and 58 canoes. In his first season, he doubled revenues. Since that time, he's added 117 canoes and kayaks, moved to a new location in Boscobel and purchased another canoe company. In 2006, he also purchased a former feed mill in Boscobel and is close to finishing a renovation project on the building, constructed in 1867, that is now his home. The base for the canoe rental is next door.
He expanded to Sauk City in 2006, first out of a shed on the northeast side of August Derleth bridge and for two years at Snuffy's Campground across Highway 12. This season, he is back at the northeast side and has added a small retail shop in the former bait shop. The shed is used for storing life jackets.
"This river should be a gold mine for southwestern Wisconsin," Teuber said. "This should be the next Door County."