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Paddle boats return to Lake Kittamaqundi

Emily Hellmer, of Columbia, bugged her dad all day last Thursday, July 5, to take her out to the paddle boats on Lake Kittamaqundi. He finally relented after dinner on the sweltering summer day.

Judging by Emily's delighted description of the bubbles and birds she saw, the trip was a lot of fun.

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But even Rich Hellmer, who did all the paddling, agreed the paddle boating was a good idea. "They needed to use this lake for something other than restaurants," he said.

As of June 21, paddle boats have returned to Lake Kittamaqundi after a nine-year absence.

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"We thought it'd bring a little more pizazz to the Town Center Lakefront atmosphere," said Sean Harbaugh, the Columbia Association's assistant director of Open Space Management, in an emailed response to questions, "and we could team with a private company in bringing something back that the lakefront has not had for a long time."

Paddle boats and other watercraft used to be rented at Lake Kittamaqundi, but rentals were discontinued in 2003, largely for financial reasons. Faced with declining rentals, the private company that ran the operation informed the Columbia Association it no longer wanted to lease the boats.

To take over the rentals, CA would have had to replace several aging boats and repair the boat house — expenses reaching "well over $100,000," according to Rob Goldman, CA's chief operating officer. Instead, CA decided to discontinue the rentals.

But this year, a new boat rental company approached CA about bringing the boats back to the lakefront. Cathy Frager, the vice president and owner of Columbia Paddle Boats, a subsidiary of Capitol River Cruises, said some of her customers at her Gaithersburg location brought up the idea.

"A lot of people were excited about seeing the paddle boats again," Frager said. "We've had a lot of good response."

Columbia Paddle Boats now owns and operates the turquoise blue watercraft that set off from one of the lake's docks. The company rents the dock space from the Columbia Association for a "nominal fee," Harbaugh said.

For $15 per half hour, up to four people can set sail and pedal around Lake Kittamaqundi. You can even fish off the boat, Frager said.

"This is going to bring business here," said Tom Rodgers, of Baltimore County, who brought his wife, Toi, and their grandson, Tommy Tennyson, to the lake Friday, July 6. They plan to bring the rest of their family the next time they come.

"It's good exercise, too," Rodgers said, after his half-hour of paddling the craft in sweltering weather.

The paddle boats are available for rent from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, but the opening time is put off till 6 p.m. on days with excessive heat. On Saturday and Sunday, the boats are open from noon to 8:30 p.m. The rentals will continue through mid-October.

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