Pond’s End draws a world of paddlers

Kim Worrall, a customer at National Park Canoe and Kayak Rental, places a pin at his hometown near Portland, Ore. Last year, the rental service had customer from 62 countries and all 50 U.S. states. PHOTO BY BLAKE DAVIS

The millions of visitors to Mount Desert Island every year are well aware of the extensive trails in Acadia National Park. But other opportunities abound on uncluttered lakes and ponds, and a local outfitter helps them test those waters.

Located in an inconspicuous grove of pines near Long Pond, National Park Canoe and Kayak Rental has been providing equipment and advice to water enthusiasts for more than 30 years.

“One of the unique things about us is our long history,” said Manager Stephen Dugay. The business began as a few boats on the side of Pretty Marsh Road, across from the public boat ramp, where it remains today. A jar was left out for payment.

Since its humble start, the rental service has netted an ever-larger number of boaters from surprisingly diverse backgrounds. Last year, customers hailed from 62 countries — including from as far away as India and Pakistan — and all 50 states.

Dugay purchased maps the size of dining room tables so customers could mark their point of origin with pins. By the end of the season last year, those maps “looked like hedgehogs,” Dugay said. “It took me 45 minutes just to take them all down [at the end of the season.]”

The business opened its doors for the season in mid-May and is scheduled to close the first week of October. At rates ranging from $27 to $37 per boat for a three- to four-hour period, the outfitter rents out kayaks, canoes and a few paddleboards.

Most customers take the boats across the street to Long Pond, where they can see loons and eagles. More than half of the lake’s shoreline is park property.

However, National Park Canoe and Kayak Rental also will deliver a boat to your house or help put one on top of your car.

“I’ll accommodate however I can,” Dugay said. “Say, you want to go fishing for a few days. That’s no problem. Just drop by and we’ll help you get it on the car.”

Early-bird customers can rent a boat beginning at 8:30 a.m., though Dugay, an early riser himself, said he often opens shop earlier.

“Sometimes we’ll have 10 boats of the water,” by the time it is officially open, he said.

While there are a number of other business on MDI that rent out boats, Dugay’s is one of the few that also offers a place to stay, he said. A house next to the boats has room for 10 and a cabin on the water houses four more.

What has led to the business’s growth and international crowd is word of mouth, Dugay said.

“We’re like a chamber of commerce here,” he said. “If you want a good lobster roll, we tell you where to get it.”

That attitude translates well to Facebook, where Dugay does the brunt of outreach to customers, posting photos and sharing conditions.

Former Islander reporter Blake Davis covered sports and maritime events. He is a graduate of College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor.