Have you ever read about a place in a magazine and just wanted to pack up and leave? Two years ago, NYPD cop Doug Davis and his wife Jessa did just that – and their destination was none other than Louisville. “The August 2008 issue of Outside had a story about the top 20 places to live now, with Louisville as number 7. And the same month, National Geographic Adventure had a story about Bardstown being one of the top adventure towns in the U.S.,” Doug says. “We were both ready to get out of Manhattan, and so we packed up everything we had in our apartment and drove down.”
Granted, the Davises had some idea of what they were getting into: Jessa has family in Indiana, and the two are, to put it mildly, outdoors enthusiasts. In April, the couple opened River City Canoe & Kayak, on Cherokee Road, a wave’s break away from Broadway and Cave Hill Cemetery. They picked the Highlands to live and open shop because they liked the area, the old buildings and the centrality of the location to everything the Louisville area has to offer. And yes, Virginia, there is plenty of canoeing and kayaking taking place right here.
“Do people canoe on the Ohio? They do,” says Doug. “There are lots of amazing places that people are starting to discover.” He cites the Blue River in Indiana, 40 minutes away in a federally protected park; Mammoth Cave, two and a half hours to the south; the Green River, which flows through Mammoth Cave National Park; the Elkhorn and Kentucky rivers near Frankfort; and Deam Lake, north of Louisville in Indiana. “Great camping, shallow, warm in summer, so kids like it,” he says. “Great place to go.”
River City Canoe & Kayak is located in a late-1880s building that started life as a general store and most recently housed a laundromat and dog wash. Truer to the spirit of the site’s original incarnation, the shop fills more a need than a simple desire. The store has everything a beginning or expert canoeist or kayaker could want – paddles, apparel, personal flotation devices, shoes, safety gear, books, DVDs, medical kits, even ShredReady helmets and boats from Puranha, Mad River and Perception – but the real draw is knowledge.
“Sales is a small part,” says Doug. “Our biggest part is our classes. If you purchase a boat from us, you get the American Canoe Association Level 1 class for free.” But buying a boat is not a prerequisite and anyone can enroll in classes, which also include American Red Cross CPR and wilderness first aid. “Education is definitely a big part of it because I serve on the ACA’s [American Canoe Association] safety committee and I want people boating safely.” The Davises are looking forward to the Floyd’s Fork expansion this summer, as well as more involvement with local paddling clubs. “We’re talking about doing a big expedition once a year for the staff, and inviting people to come with us.”
Doug started canoeing as a young kid in Florida, while Jessa prefers the kayak. “That was one of our first dates,” Doug says. “A canoe/camping trip in the Delaware Water Gap in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.” Jessa shared his passion, and here they are.
The Davises and their staff are encouraging kids, too, to take to the water. They recently helped the nonprofit organization Outdoor Nation in a search for youth ambassadors willing to take their love of water sports to a larger audience. “You’ve got childhood obesity, childhood asthma going through the roof,” Doug says. “We’re trying to show how fun paddle sports is and to get people involved and excited.”
Although the Davises miss their friends in New York, there are some pleasant surprises that have made them proud to call Louisville their home. “I’m not a fan of [New York’s] overpriced restaurants. The food here is just as good if not better ... lots of underrated restaurants, best sushi I’ve ever had. There are lots of great things to do in town, and we definitely love being a part of it,” says Doug. “People in Louisville need to have a lot more civic pride.”
River City Canoe & Kayak is located at 814 Cherokee Road. They can be reached at (502) 384-3737, and you can find them online at www.rcckonline.com.