Compiled by Paul Wolf
Chris Lockhart knows a thing or two about water. A Jackson native and high school science teacher, he is also the owner of Capital City Kayak Adventures, a company offering guided water tours and fun in and around the Jackson metro area.
A Mississippi State University graduate with a biology education degree, Lockhart has seen it all.
“In the summer, when the water has receded among these cypress trees – it gets crystal clear,” he says of an oxbow at Mayes Lake in LeFleur East. “You see straight down to the bottom.”
“Oh yeah. What’s fresh water without gators? On a normal day (along the Pearl River),” he said, “I probably see more gators than people.”
When did you first knew you were into science?
Growing up, my dad in the summer took me and my sister to the Natural Science Museum. I was an outdoorsy kid, bringing bugs in the house, keeping odd animals as pets.
I attended a science camp in seventh grade at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. One of the activities was kayaking. I fell in love with it then.
How did you start Capital City Kayaks?
When I moved back to Jackson after college and got settled in, I bought a boat. I’d go kayaking and post pictures, and people would say, ‘Where are you?’ I’d tell them I was still in Jackson! They couldn’t believe it. ‘You can’t be… just down the street? Can’t be.’
Soon, friends wanted to come along, so I needed another boat. It went from one extra boat to buying two, then three and then, a pickup. It grew from there.
You had an El Camino, didn’t you?
Yeah! I was hauling ‘yaks in a candy painted purple El Camino! I could fit about eight kayaks in the back of that thing. I thought, ‘I need a bigger truck.’ Then a trailer. I finally said, ‘You know what? I’m buying a bus.’ I have a minibus and full size one, too.
You give people the full experience: how does it typically work?
Typically, we put in and take out in the same spot. We’ll put in at the Mayes Lake boat launch, paddle upriver or downstream and play around at Waterworks Curve.
In the future, I want to offer a route. If we start at the Spillway, I’ll be able to shuttle you back to your vehicle and you come on downstream or vice-versa. You can take your time and enjoy the full 11-mile excursion. That trip, in the summer, takes on average four to six hours, especially if you’re trying to enjoy yourself.
Where are your favorite spots?
Let’s think about the Reservoir. It offers different spots along the way. That’s all the Reservoir is, a backed up section of the Pearl River. From adjacent creeks to the river itself, and Pelahatchie Bay and Pelahatchie Creek. I love Crystal Lake (in Flowood). That’s my favorite, aside from Mayes Lake, of course.
That’s a lot of “Pearl River.” Speak to the value of the waterways here, especially the Pearl. What do they mean to you and what should they mean?
The Pearl is our drinking supply. It’s the main vein for central Mississippi. Being able to provide fishable, swimmable, drinkable water should be important to everyone. Every ditch and creek in the Jackson area feeds the Pearl. The next time you think about throwing trash on the road or dumping something in the creek, it’s going to your drinking water.
You have everyone from first-timers to experienced kayakers?
Especially first timers. I love them. It’s folks who say, ‘I can’t swim. I’ll flip.’ You really have to try to flip a kayak, by the way. Or, ‘there are gators out there.’ Or, ‘what if a fish jumps in my boat?’ They have natural fears of something they haven’t experienced. I get them out and get them comfortable.
And you have repeat customers?
A lot. Some folks say, ‘I had a kayak when I lived somewhere else. It was such a hassle, putting it on the car and denting my roof. I’d rather pay you $25 and have you bring it to me each time.
How many can you accommodate at one time?
I pick a comfortable level, especially with groups. If they’re 19 and up? Probably 30.
What’s the average length of a trip?
We spend about 10 to 15 minutes getting acclimated. They’ll be paddling like a pro after that! The average excursion is an hour and a half to two hours. For $25 a person, I provide everything they need. All you do is show up. You can bring your snacks and bring your dogs.
What’s the reward in this for you?
It’s one of those things, being able to offer the opportunity to do this in the inner city. I’m providing opportunities for folks who never would think they could do this, especially here.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give?
Just get outside. I teach that especially with kids and this tech boom. Tablets are the big thing. People aren’t going outdoors. It’s all about giving these kids experiences they’ll never forget like I had at 11 years-old. I’ll never remember my best day of watching TV. But I do remember the day I went kayaking for the first time. It’s stuck with me. Here I am, trying to share that experience with everybody else.