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Located in Old Lyme, Black Hall Outfitters combines a unique, on-the-water location with a family legacy. The shop offers everything from kayak rentals, sales, and lessons to fishing trips, stand up paddle boarding, ecotours, sunset tours, and even yoga lessons on paddleboards. It began in 1999 when the parents of current owner Gene Chmiel bought the little marina where the family kept a boat after his father retired from a career as a New York City firefighter.
"We spent every weekend as a family working on it and doing major improvements," says Chmiel. "The marina, docks, and grounds have all been completely renovated; the buildings all rebuilt."
Today, it's an attractive venue that draws everyone from weekend kayakers to corporate groups of up to 100 people (including the Google technology team)—to its shallow waters and nationally protected ecosystem: the Great Island Wildlife Area. The refuge boasts an incredible variety of wildlife including migratory swallow displays and golden and bald eagles. It's also the final leg of the Connecticut River Paddlers' Trail.
"Our focus is being able to introduce people to really spectacular places to go paddling," says Chmiel. "Both of our locations have direct access to almost 1,000 acres of protected ecosystems that are considered top spots in the northeast for paddling adventures. We've got hundreds and hundreds of miles of estuaries and backwater tributaries to explore and paddle."
"The business has crossed three generations of family," says Chmiel, "and our Black Hall Outfitters team continues to grow, bringing in more key people to help us introduce people to our amazing offering."
Despite its status as Connecticut's premier paddle sports destination, Black Hall Outfitters has not forgotten its roots.
"We're a full-service bait and tackle shop," Chmiel says. "Basically anything that has to do with paddling and putting people on the water—lessons, rentals, group outings, and sales—we do it all."
This story and photographs were provided by Black Hall Outfitters, located at 132 Shore Road in Old Lyme. BHO is also opening a new, second location at 362 Boston Post Road, Westbrook at Wetmore's Marina. The new location has 140 boat slips and direct access to the 500 acre Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge for paddling escapes. For more information, call 860-434-9680 or visit www.blackhalloutfitters.com.
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The annual guide to the CT River Valley has arrived.