Woodchuck Tales: Kay Henry launches a company because she wanted more fun

In the late 60’s canoes were either made of aluminum (Grumman) or flat bottomed, heavy fiberglass (Old Town). Performance designs were non-existent. The Mad River Canoe company was born from a personal desire for a fun boat to paddle – starting with a hull shape that incorporated a shallow V, so you could lean the boat to turn (like skiing) yet it would track well and was faster in flat water.
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Kay Henry, Northern Forest Canoe Trail Co-founder



In the late 60’s canoes were either made of aluminum (Grumman) or flat-bottomed, heavy fiberglass (Old Town). Performance designs were non-existent. The Mad River Canoe company was born from a personal desire for a fun boat to paddle – starting with a hull shape that incorporated a shallow V, so you could lean the boat to turn (like skiing) yet it would track well and was faster in flat water.

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The canoes were originally built one at a time in a shed behind our home in Vermont, only gradually expanding to manufacturing facilities over the years. My first husband designed the boats and I took on the task of building this into a business.

A chance encounter with a Dupont scientist working to develop a new material, Kevlar, brought new fabric technologies to the fledgling company and the expansion into Royalex got us into the thermoforming business.

Over the years an accessory company, Voyageur, was incorporated into the mix and the launch of a national program of demos, “You Can Canoe Days”, changed the marketing forever of canoes and kayaks for the entire industry.

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By the early 90s, Mad River Canoe was one of the dominant brands in the global paddlesports marketplace. I sold the company in late 1998 to a private equity group, Confluence Watersports, which was created to purchase and combine Mad River Canoe Co and Wilderness Systems kayaks.

After the sale, my second husband and I have been working to create a long distance water trail, The Northern Forest Canoe Trail, which combines paddling opportunities in the Northeast with historic Native American travel routes, bringing eco-tourism opportunities to rural communities in Northern NY, VT, NH and Maine.

Back in the early 1990s, outdoor industry veteran Larry Harrison decided it was time to ensure the stories of those who were integral in the establishment and growth of what we now know as the outdoor industry were not forgotten. He began to bestow an honor upon anyone who had been in the outdoor industry for 20 years or more and was willing to fill out a questionnaire ensuring the names and records were recorded for posterity. Each recipient of the honor receives a pin, bearing the visage of the logo you see at the top of this article. Wearers of this pin are members of a cadre of individuals proud to call themselves Woodchucks. SNEWS® president Michael Hodgson is equally proud to now be the keeper of the Woodchuck flame and archives.

If you already have a Woodchuck pin, welcome! We need you to enter the den and join your fellow Woodchucks – click here http://www.linkedin.com/e/gis/1183317 If you are not yet recognized as an official Woodchuck and are willing to endure the initiation (there is no wood gnawing required) we want to hear from you too. Send an email to industrywoodchucks@gmail.com and Hodsgon will send an official Woodchuck application form your way. You fill that out, send it back, and a pin will be yours. Harrison and Hodgson know – painful initiation process!

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