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Shutdown launches Itasca Sports expansion

In the first few days of operation, Itasca Sports owners Caren and Sam Smith launched boats on Fish Hook, Elbow, Belle Taine, Long and other area lakes. The pontoons can be rented for five hours or less, a full day or multiple days. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

When the state shutdown closed Itasca State Park, the propellers for Itasca Sports' pontoon rental business came to a halt.


Sam and Caren Smith, who are second-generation owners of the family rental enterprise, put a business plan in place in 24 hours.

"Need a pontoon?" they asked via Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber e-mails.

And the wheels (holding pontoons) began to roll. Itasca Sports now offers mobile pontoon delivery.

And they plan to continue the service after Itasca State Park reopens, based on customer response.

"We realized a big demand," Sam said.

"That's the blessing," Caren said.

Itasca Sports, Inc. will deliver and launch pontoons on area lakes. Delivery is free within a 25-mile radius (of the north entrance of Itasca State Park).

A 16-foot, seven-person pontoon rents for $200 a day, including gas and taxes. The L-shaped seating area is replete with a canopy.

A 24-foot vessel, holding 14 people, rents for $300 a day.

"We were blasted with calls the first day," Sam said of the response.

The Smiths had contemplated launching the venture in the past. The shutdown put the move into fast forward.

Customers, Sam said, are grateful for the service. Owning a boat is an expensive and somewhat labor-intensive endeavor.

The delivery of a pontoon, and tutelage on the navigation of the craft, adds to the pleasure of time on the water.

"I was going to buy a pontoon," a customer told Sam. "Now I'll do this."

Sam and Caren are considering expanding the number of boats they rent and possibly offering other boating avenues.

Meanwhile, the shutdown, the Smiths agree, has been devastating for the businesses relying on Itasca visitors.

On a typical July 4th weekend, "every boat would be in the water - with a waiting list 10 deep," Sam said.

Businesses catering to park visitors have an eight-week window of opportunity, he said. "They have lost their source of income."

For information on the pontoon rentals, head to

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