The Guadalupe River as it courses through Gonzales is often overlooked and sometimes cursed. Forgotten as a natural treasure with many possible economic benefits, and disdained when the rains come and inundate the golf links and surrounding lowlands.
But Lou Garino of Lou's Canoes hopes to change the perception of that blue/green ribbon of water. Along with his wife, Cheri, they have created a new, local business that hopes to thrive on water recreation while showcasing one of the hidden jewels of the town.
“Gonzales is now officially on the river!” said Garino as he led a group of people down to the water after a ribbon cutting for the business last week. The rental and bait shack is not hard to find, located just downriver from the hydroelectric dam and at the beginning of Independence Park.
If you need further direction, it's the little blue building at the old brickyard.
The store holds a number of river-associated items like tackle and baitfish for anglers and knives and blowguns that river-roaming kids may be interested in. But the main attraction is the rentals that they offer: inner tubes for floating and canoes and kayaks for paddling. This stretch of river was designated as the “Independence Paddling Trail” some years back, and Garino is looking to be one of the first to capitalize on it.
“Be the very first to float Gonzales on a paddle board,” bellowed Garino. “No one's ever done that before. You could be the very first.”
He also touted a line of “locally sourced” bait like night crawlers, shiners, minnows, and frozen shrimp and shad. There's also a small selection of snacks, drinks, and sunglasses.
“Everything you need,” he said.
All of his rental equipment is new. Inner tubes run $15 for a day for floating, and customers can cruise from below the dam to the Hwy. 183 bridge where a shuttle will take them back to where they began. They can float all day if they wish, over and over again. Canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards cost $30 and operate under the same system.
The float is slow and meandering, taking about three hours, which is good for the novice river rat, he said.
The Garinos took the group on a stroll down to the river where guests launch their floats. Lou described a plan that will clean up the area that is often trashed and neglected by locals that walk down to fish there. He envisions concrete picnic tables at the trailhead where people can sit and watch the river, and also clearing some of the overgrown vegetation for a better view. A small floating dock is also part of the scheme.
One can see the potential as they stand there watching the river’s water cascade over the lip of the dam.
“Everywhere you go, people are looking over the river. Except here,” Garino said.
The venture began after the couple moved to town and opened their business, Comfy Pet, on St. Paul Street. He approached the Gonzales city council with an idea for cooperation that would benefit not only him but the community. It was time for Gonzales to embrace the Guadalupe.
“It's a public/private venture, which I'm very happy to be a part of,” Garino explained. “Lou's Canoes rents the property from the city, and the private part is that Cheri and I put a bunch of money into it. It's just really great to be part of that. It's great to have an alliance with a city like Gonzales.”
Even though the water looked much inviting on a 100-degree day, no one in the party decided to jump in, although Mayor Connie Kacir promised to return for a tubing trip, sans heels.