Canoe Outpost-Peace River was founded in 1969 by the Stout family from Sarasota and is Florida’s oldest professional paddlesport outfitter. In 1978, Charlotte Bragg, also of Sarasota, took over from the Stouts who were family friends of the Braggs. In the summer of 2001, Charlotte retired and sold the business to her daughter, Becky Bragg, who continues the Outpost tradition with Jon, her brother, and son, Trent.
Question: Canoe Outpost-Peace River is 50? What’s the backstory?
Becky Bragg: In 1968, Tex Stout and Quenon Bragg paddled the Peace River to explore Tex’s dream of offering paddle trips on the Peace. They ended their journey on a cold, rainy night in Arcadia. The wives travelled to Arcadia to pick up the weary travelers. I was the babysitter who minded the kids back in Sarasota.
“In 1969, Tex and Donna Stout moved to Arcadia with their four daughters and started Canoe Outpost. They built a small cabin, bathed in the river, and started renting canoes. In the mid-seventies, they built the larger residence on-site. The cabin, which still stands, became the main office.
“In 1978, Charlotte Bragg, my mom, bought the business from the Stouts. She raised popularity of paddling the Peace to new levels by increasing the fleet of canoes to over 300 with wilderness camping growing immensely after “Deliverance” hit the silver screen. Charlotte had the foresight to start purchasing property along the river for the exclusive use of Canoe Outpost-Peace River customers.
“In 1990, I returned to Florida from Houston after a career in architectural design with my son and began a new career in paddlesports as the marketing director and graphic designer.
“In 2001, I picked up the paddle when Charlotte retired and purchased Canoe Outpost, Inc. and Canoe Outpost-Peace River. Myself and my team, which includes my son, Trent, and my brother, Jon, and have expanded the paddling on the river to include a Campsite Concierge service, reserved semi-wilderness camping that includes camping gear delivery and guided fossil trips for school groups.
“The Stouts created franchises and over half a dozen Canoe Outposts operated across the state at one time. Charlotte Bragg discontinued the franchise program because of liability issues and the Canoe Outpost family of five—Suwannee River, Santa Fe River, Little Manatee, Peace River and Gaea Guides—continues to this day as an advertising family.”
Question: Secret to keeping us coming back for five decades? Expectations are changing?
BB: “Most of our customers have been coming since they were children and are bringing their children and grandchildren to see the river. They all have the same expectations; to get back to nature and experience the true Florida, even relive their own childhood. Most folks now want the shorter trips, having their camping gear delivered and take advantage of our campsite services. They don’t want to work as hard to have a good time.”
Question: Can you see a difference when a customer leaves, then returns? Is there a magic in canoeing?
BB: “The smiles and the demeanor of the customers are different when they get back off the river. They are more relaxed and at peace. Many are in awe of what they just experienced, it is so different than their ordinary life in the city.”
Question: You work outside. Any evidence our natural world is changing?
BB: “My concerns about the river and its surroundings are the water supply and keeping it natural. Canoe Outpost-Peace River is a chance for people to see what the true Florida can be ... and it needs preserving. I have witnessed the phosphate spills in the nineties and have read and heard about the massive spill that killed 98 percent of the marine life in the river in the ‘70s. I worry about the impact mining could have.
“Along with those concerns are the demand on the water supply. The springs on the river are gone and we depend on rainwater to keep water in the river. The demand from the coastal areas grows and grows. The river can only give so much.”
Question: Advice to those considering their own business. Obstacles to avoid.
BB: “Be prepared to work hard. There’s a lot of competition out there and you have to be prepared to work hard for customers. There’s periods of no money and there’s periods you make money. It takes a lot of perseverance to survive.”