Eco-tourism booming on the Congaree River in West Columbia

Michael Mayo at West Columbia City Council.

Michael Mayo told West Columbia City Council, Tuesday, his business that utilizes the Congaree River is booming, and he expects it to get better.

“My job is to get people to come enjoy the river,” said Mayo. “I want to wear them out so all they want to do is get something to eat at one of our fine restaurants, and stay in our hotels.” He also said getting on the river gets children out of the house.

Mayo is the owner of Palmetto Outdoor Center. In the warm season, his company shuttles tubers, approximately 10,000, from one river access point to another. The trips begin on the Lower Saluda River, for a float over white water rapids to a take-out at the West Columbia Riverwalk Amphitheater. Mayo markets the service to several states.

He told council the Congaree River offers the appeal of Spanish moss, associated with a warm climate, over white water rapids, a more northern feature. He thanked the City of West Columbia for providing access to the river, and said that was the key to success.

Mayo also presented statistics to council showing that 28 percent of his clientele drive to the region specifically to go tubing. His market is drawn heavily from North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. “Some of these customers also passed Disney World to get wet,” in the Congaree, Mayo said. But he has welcomed vistors from as far away as California and Washington state. He said more river customers are coming the Washington DC and Virginia, too.

Mayo also said 18 percent of his market were in the area visiting family or friends and decided to stick around another day to enjoy a tubing adventure.
Mayo described Palmetto Outdoor, which is in its 14th year, as the largest outdoor outfitter in the state. He said in addition to attracting river recreation, he markets the area as a place to relocate to.

Mayo also said more is coming.  “If you’re excited about this, then you haven’t seen nothing yet,” he said.

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