Over six years have passed since Scott Teuber struck up a conversation with Rent-A-Canoe owner Larry White at the Muscoda, Wisconsin, boat landing. At the time, Teuber had been leading guided canoe trips on the Lower Wisconsin River for a few years and wasn't looking to increase his work load.
"I swore I'd never own a canoe rental business because it seemed like those people were just sitting at the boat landing waiting for people," Teuber recalls, "but we started talking and he mentioned his business was for sale."
By the spring of 2003, Teuber found himself owning four dozen old aluminum canoes, a handful of trailers and an old pickup truck, all parked at the corner of Highways 61 and 133 in Boscobel.
"That's how it all got started," Teuber says of Wisconsin River Outings, which now boasts 175 canoes with locations in Boscobel and now Sauk City.
"I just sold the last of those original aluminum canoes to a friend in Upper Michigan," Teuber says. "I advertised them on the Internet as 'Deliverance-era' canoes, which apparently some people didn't find humorous."
But you have to possess a sense of humor when you discover customers dragging your new Wenonah canoes across asphalt boat landings or tying them together and "barging" down the river.
"Most of what I have to do is educate the public about the river, what they should and should not do," says the former seventh grade teacher. "There's a lot of misinformation going around about this river. There are many different opinions about the river and its sandbars, and we preach safety first. The biggest thing we start out with is that the boats and their gear is replaceable; you're not. If you do end up in the water, just relax and float downriver. In a few hundred feet, your butt will be bouncing off the bottom. Don't panic. That's crucial."
Teuber's earliest memories of canoeing are paddling down the Fox River in northern Illinois in his uncle's canoe. "I was hooked," he says of the experience.
Then, while teaching in St. Charles, Illinois, he student-taught under an avid paddler with an affinity for the Lower Wisconsin River. "He's the one who introduced me to the Wisconsin River," Teuber recalls.
Since then Teuber has led guided canoe and kayak trips on Lake Superior, as well as the Mississippi, Flambeau and Wisconsin rivers. Today he specializes in guided two-day trips down the Lower Wisconsin River, usually from Muscoda to Boscobel and often with Girl and Boy Scout groups.
"Girl Scouts must have a Wilderness First Responder with them, and I have that certification," Teuber says. "At the end of the season we often take the Boy Scout groups out."
Teuber's trips usually consist of a leisurely 5-6 hour paddle, with lunch and dinner served on the river the first day, overnight sandbar camping and breakfast served on the second day before arriving in Boscobel.
Customers just looking to rent canoes and kayaks usually arrive on Friday night, paddle for two days and head home on Sunday afternoon.
"The perfect customer would get a room here on Friday night, have breakfast at one of the cafes Saturday morning and then hit the river," Teuber says. "He'd return Sunday morning and do one of our 8- to 10-mile mountain biking loops in the hills around Boscobel."
River as economic resource
Don't get Teuber started on the economic potential of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. He's a firm believer who has invested his life's savings in the project.
"This river should be an economic boon to any city located along the riverway," he says. "When you can stand in the middle of the river and turn 360 degrees and not see any sign of civilization, that's something to brag about. There are paddling opportunities, fishing opportunities and camping opportunities. That's something to take advantage of."
It was just one of those opportunities that prompted Teuber to purchase Sauk Prairie Canoe Rental on Highway 12 in Sauk City earlier this year, making Teuber the largest canoe livery operator on the Lower Wisconsin River.
"I was getting calls, especially in July and August, to shuttle canoes up there from Boscobel. I eventually bought the business after several years of negotiation," Teuber says. "So I had to establish myself there, if for no other reason than to drive more traffic down here. Those people don't go back up there once they've come down here."
Teuber says some of the misinformation being spread about the Wisconsin River in the Boscobel and Muscoda area is that there are no sand bars down here. "We're trying to dispel those rumors," he says. "We tell them that you don't have to share the river with 300 boats. There's a lot less boat traffic down this stretch of the river, period."
Most of Wisconsin River Outings' customers come from Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago. They learn about the company and the river through Teuber's website, www.86641canoe.com. "I'm a 100 percent believer in the Internet," Teuber says. "I wouldn't be in business without it."
During the interview of Teuber for this story, the phone was ringing off the hook inside the former New Horizons building on Boscobel's Wisconsin Avenue. When asked whether someone needed to be taking those calls, Teuber said that it was being handled. The calls were being rerouted by computer from Boscobel to Phoenix, where Teuber's mother, Christine Filler, takes reservations.
"She should be here in a few weeks to move that end of the business up here," Teuber explains. "It's sort of a family affair. My brother David is also involved somewhat."
This summer Teuber will be "the floating guy," shuttling between Boscobel and Sauk City. His friend, Pam Ostrowski, will be managing the Boscobel location.
Boscobel Paddle Fest
In an effort to draw more people to Boscobel and the Lower Wisconsin River, Teuber and Wisconsin River Outings are sponsoring the first annual Boscobel Paddle Fest on September 19. The event will include a recreational race from Blue River to Boscobel, followed by an afternoon of food and music at Wisconsin River Outings headquarters.
"We're hoping to draw people from outside the area to enjoy the river and leave some of their money here," Teuber explains. "I'd love to have people complaining about no place to park. That would be a good problem to have."
One complaint Teuber has been hearing is about his canoes blocking access to area boat landings. It's a problem he tries to educate his customers about, but it's not easy.
"We tell them, 'Do us a favor and leave the boat landings clear.' We don't want our boats on that blacktop, and we don't want to be in other people's way, but sometimes it's hard to get the message across," Teuber says. "It is a public boat landing and we should all be able to use it in harmony. It just takes a little communication."
Investing in area's history, beauty
The current headquarters for Wisconsin River Outings is Boscobel's historic Sylvester Grist Mill at 715 Wisconsin Ave. Recently approved by the city, the property will include the canoe business in the old New Horizons building and Teuber's personal residence in the 1866 mill. He plans to remodel the old mill with new native red oak flooring while keeping the existing oak beams and stone walls.
"I'm shooting for October first. You've gotta have a dream," he says.
In the meantime, Teuber will be trying to run two businesses on one of the most beautiful stretches of flat water in the country.
"We are all ambassadors of this town and if the jobs in our industrial park are leaving, we need to bring people into Boscobel in other ways," he says. "We are on a bit of paddling paradise here. Once people get here they don't need to leave. Everything they need is right here. It's time to take advantage of that."
David Krier is the editor of The Boscobel Dial, in which this story originally appeared.