By Mike Conley
Two years after its closure, an iconic restaurant in Marion is taking on new life as a place where people can enjoy floating down the Catawba River. And plans are underway for this popular destination to become a restaurant again.
Opened in 1960, Dolphin Fish Camp specialized in fish, shrimp, steaks and chicken and has become a popular place to enjoy a good meal and see friends. The restaurant, located off US 221 Business, closed for good the last weekend of July 2016. After 56 years, owner Dolph Justice felt it was time to start catching fish instead. to cook it.
But now the property is the new home of Catawba River Outdoors. The place people used to come for a good meal now offers river rides on hot summer days.
Now in its fourth year, Catawba River Outdoors offers tube rides along the river. The family business is owned by Eric Adams while his wife Melissa and sons Charlie, Garrett and Samuel all help out.
Catawba River Outdoors was previously based at their other operation, Deerfield Lake and Campground, which is off Hankins Road. Now the company is based at the former Dolphin Fish Camp.
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Adams told The McDowell News that he had been in other business ventures, but they were nothing like that.
“I’ve never worked anywhere else that had inner tubes or rafting before I opened the business,” he said.
The idea to have something like this came one evening a few years ago as Adams, his wife Melissa and son Samuel were relaxing on their patio. During their conversation, the topic of operating the tubes for the Catawba River came up because they had seen a similar one on the news.
“After that we took a trip to the New River in Todd, NC where they do a lot of tubing and kayaking and watched how things worked and decided to try it in the spring,” said- he declared.
That winter, the family bought a bus on Craigslist and bought the buoys and kayaks. Catawba River Outdoors first opened on Memorial Day 2015. At first, business was slow, likely because it was new to the community. But by August he had improved considerably and the Adams family had to buy more hits.
“We’re now into our fourth season and we’ve grown to four buses, multiple employees, and four trailers that we haul tubes on,” Adams said.
The operation is rather simple. Although they started out with tubes and kayaks, Catawba River Outdoors now only offered inner tubes. People come to their business where they pay admission and fill out a waiver form. Next, guests board one of their four buses for a trip to a location on the river behind Tom Johnson Camping World. At this point, they enter the inner tubes and simply float over the Catawba. It takes about two and a half hours to float to the location of the old fishing camp. A trip to their campground takes about four and a half hours, Adams said.
The float is completely unguided. However, Adams and his staff monitor the flow and height of the river. Once the river reaches a certain height, they don’t put more people on the river.
“No matter the flow, everyone is offered a life jacket with a paddle,” he said.
Adams and his team spoke with Craig Walker, assistant manager of McDowell Emergency Management, about placing numbers along the route of the tubes and recording the GPS coordinates of the numbers. This way it would be much easier to find someone on the river in case of an emergency.
Catawba River Outdoors begins operating on Memorial Day and continues through Labor Day or the following week. It is open seven days a week. Business starts operating at 10 a.m. and the last bus run of the day is at 3 p.m. Of course, operations may change depending on weather and river conditions.
When the former Dolphin Fish Camp entered the real estate market, Adams knew it had the potential to enhance what it already offered. The large brick building seats about 180 people and has three large dining rooms. The rear part overlooks the river and the front of the building has a large parking lot.
The Adams family purchased the property in February and began adding new features. He added 20 picnic tables and put up a fence and gate.
But then there was the flooding in May, just as they were getting the new location ready for the 2018 summer season. The parking lot was flooded and the gate was closed for safety until the waters cleared. withdraw.
“The flooding has definitely impacted our business this season,” Adams said. “It happened right at the start of tubing season so we were closed for the first three weeks due to high water levels and then when the flow went down to a safe level a lot of people thought we were still closed.”
As far as damages go, the Adams family didn’t face any significant issues at the campground or the Dolphin. “Just a big mess to clean up,” he added.
Now that summer is in full swing, Catawba River Outdoors is attracting lots of people to float on the water. The Fishing Camp parking lot has plenty of room for guest vehicles and the four buses. Each bus can accommodate 40 people. And they come from nearby towns of Hickory and Charlotte and even foreign countries like Russia.
A new feature that Adams absolutely wanted to offer will soon become a reality.
“One of the reasons the new location has worked so well for us is that since our second year in business, we wanted to be able to provide food to people coming down the river because they are all hungry,” said he told The McDowell. New. “With the acquisition of the new site, this will allow us to offer our customers an all-inclusive place. We were getting calls from large groups who wanted a place where they could come play, eat and have a good time. Until we acquired this property the only place they could do this was places like Dollywood or Carowinds and the cost was much higher per person.
His mother Jackie Presnell and her husband Howard Presnell make improvements to the building so that it can reopen as a restaurant. “The plan is to prepare the kitchen for the tubers,” Adams said.
Catawba River Outdoors will offer family-style dining similar to Dan’l Boone Inn in Boone or Farmer’s Daughter in Chuckey, Tennessee. In these places, food is served in bowls for everyone at the table to enjoy.
“Everyone likes to eat,” Adams said.
The idea is to make the place look like a farm. He plans to install a terrace that will face the river.
“We also installed an order window and a pickup window so people coming down the river don’t have to worry about shirts or shoes,” Adams said. “They can just walk in and order and get their food.”
The plan is to open the take-out section within the next three weeks. The family-style indoor dining area will hopefully be ready by October, if all goes well, according to Adams.
When asked if the restaurant would be open year-round, Adams said it depended on whether there was enough business, aside from inland tubers, to warrant it.
Adding a restaurant will go a long way in ensuring the place realizes its full potential.
“When the new location is complete, it will be a place where family and groups can come and spend time on the river having fun,” he said. “When they come out of the river there will be food available as well as a very large picnic area by the water. We are also planning to add more corn hole signs as well as a basketball goal and a volleyball area.We also plan to store outdoor accessories such as water shoes, sunscreen, dry bags and other water sports supplies in our tub house.
Currently, the company has five employees for the exploitation of the tubes. “When the restaurant opens, we expect to employ about 30 people in total,” Adams said.
But he doesn’t want to make too many changes to the place. It will be called Dolphin Riverside to honor the 56th anniversary of Justice’s popular restaurant.
“Everyone here knows him as Dolphin,” he said.
And Justice, who is now 93, said he felt the place was in good hands.
“It will be a good place for the county,” said the retired owner of the fishing camp.
Justice gave Adams some ideas along the way to make his new restaurant a success, including some recipes.
“We’re thrilled to death that Eric and Melissa have it,” Justice’s wife Nelma said.
And the Adams are grateful for this support and cooperation as they bring new life to this place.
“The Justice family has been a huge help during the transition,” Adams said. “Although Dolph is 93 years old, he and his wife Nelma have gone above and beyond and done everything they can to make sure this business is successful. I hope we can continue the tradition of customer satisfaction. and family atmosphere that they were able to provide to residents of McDowell County in the future.
For more information, visit the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/catawbariveroutdoor/