Bell Brothers purchase 200 acres; 34 acres of which is now known as the Bel Haven Lake was a Cranberry Farm. Armed with only a few shovels but strong backs, the digging to create the lake had begun.
The dam was built and the lake complete. The picnic area of the beach becomes very popular. Folks start to pitch tents overnight; hence, the concept for a campsite began. Sold the first canoe rental. Oh, and by the way, Bill and Lois were married in this year!
Bel Haven Lake is incorporated as a campground. The original camping season opened with 30 tent sites.
In November, the first child of Bill and Lois is born, Barbara Lynn.
Bel Haven sells their first boat. It was a Grumman canoe, the leading aluminum manufacturer of the time, becoming a household name for many canoe enthusiasts. Along with owning and operating the campground, their retail business of selling canoes takes off.
In December, the second child of Bill and Lois is born, David Brian.
The interest in canoes as a recreational sport explodes on the scene. Bel Haven is renting as many as 250 – 300 canoes per day on the weekends. Meanwhile, back in the campground…Who was once considered an occasional weekend camper, now are seasonal fixtures. This pastime in the “Pinelands” became their home away from home.
Bel Haven and its patrons are the first to have cable TV in Washington Township. The first recreational kayak introduced in Green Bank.
Son, David enters family business full time. Currently, he is a co-owner and the Green Bank Shop Manager.
Bel Haven Campground, now known as “Bel Haven Resort Campground”, is sold to the Perger family. The current owners are Mitch and Tammy Perger. The "Bells" continue the rental, sales and service of canoes and kayaks from its current location on the east side of the lake, trading as Bel Haven Canoes & Kayaks.
As kayaks line up alongside canoes, rental trips become more like mini explorations. Bel Haven is offering 9 different trips on 4 separate rivers.
Kayaks surpass canoes as the boat of choice for consumer sales.
Sales & Service becomes a year round business based on demand and popularity of the sport. Extensive accessories are introduced as a full line service to the business. In November, Bill becomes an ACA certified kayak and canoe instructor.
Bel Haven introduces its annual Demo Day extravaganza with representation from several manufacturers. This started the “Try Before You Buy” policy which offers every patron an opportunity to make the best choice.
The “Kayak Kraze” begins for the rental business. The demand for kayak trips on all rivers double!
Bel Haven becomes mainstream on the internet! The website is developed and modified to meet industry and sport demands. June 1st, Bel Haven receives a visit from Govenor Christy Whitman. Whitman kayaked down the Mullica River with members of the Bel Haven Kayak and Canoe Club.
Bel Haven Canoes & Kayaks becomes the largest dealer in South Jersey, with the largest indoor showroom in the state. Bel Haven receives a “Distinguished Travel Site Award” from Real Adventure.com, and is also awarded “Best At The Shore” for Canoe and Kayak rentals. David Bell becomes an ACA certified Kayak Instructor. And for the many that ask this question...Yes, this is the season Barbara Gerlich joined the Bel Haven team; supposedly just to implement progressive marketing strategies. She still has not left!
Bel Haven Canoes & Kayaks celebrates its 50th Anniversary as a family owned and operated enterprise! Stocking over 750 boats for retail and over 600 boats for rental and demo. Internet traffic exceeds expectations with over 100,000 hits per week. The water levels of the rivers are higher than they have been in years. Bill and Lois continue to race kayaks both in New Jersey and Florida with winning results. Bel Haven is a leading boat dealer, representing 16 canoe and kayak manufacturers and at least 30 paddlesport companies.
2004 saw Bel Haven’s transformation to a Full Service Regional Paddling Center. Much energy and endless days and nights by senior staff implemented a computer point of sales system. A major marketing program called “Bel Bucks Membership” encouraged customers to register for savings on all purchases. The summer of large rainfall kept the rivers full without dampening the enthusiasm of the paddling public. Patrons had advanced reservations and scheduled departure times that became a feature of the rental side of Bel Haven. Four expanded lesson programs were introduced. From beginners on flat water to adventurous whitewater enthusiasts, there were lessons for all paddlers…you may have even learned to Eskimo Roll! All 3 of Bel Haven’s certified instructors became Boy Scouts of America Canoe Merit Badge Counselors and two special programs; “Youth to Nature” and “Quick Tips” with or without Paddler Lunch options, became very popular. In addition, “Corporate Leadership Team Building and Communications Skilled Programs” were very well received. Staff development clinics were presented by major manufacturers. Lastly but certainly not least, Bel Haven hosted its first Kayak BenefitRaces, “Laps for Leander House”. Sponsoring an event for adults with developmental disabilities was not only a success but another milestone for Bel Haven Canoes & Kayaks.
Talk about a year of transition; 2005 saw David Bell and Barbara Gerlich become partners and commit to buying Bel Haven from Bill Bell and his brother Robert Bell and family. While Bel Haven still services the rental public with trips on the four Pinelands rivers, a major effort this year was to continue to build Bel Haven into a Full Service Regional Paddling Center. Sales, rentals, outfitting and training are the components that distinguish Bel Haven from all other paddlesport businesses in the region. Demo Day was a great success with major manufacturers presenting a host of interesting clinics to the paddling public. Bel Haven Canoes and Kayaks begin to carry the final piece of paddling; the whitewater portion!
Bel Haven now carries the leading whitewater kayaks in the industry and features manufacturers of the extreme aspect of the sport. Who would think with all this flat water surrounding us?
In March 2006, Barbara Gerlich and David Bell attended what must have been the longest business closing in the history of South Jersey. With 50+ years of business behind Bel Haven, the proceedings took one and a half days to complete. On March 30, 2006 Barbara and David re-opened as the new owners for the first day of a newly named shop, Bel Haven Paddlesports! Major facility renovations were completed this season amplifying the new name with a new “look”; updating conditions for the paddling public. The theme and thinking for 2006 was “everything old is new again”! Demo Day in July was a major smash hit with an appearance from the United States Coast Guard! Our servicemen and women presented the spectators with a breathtaking demo water rescue hovering over the Bel Haven Lake. Stephen Keith Walters joins the Bel Haven team as an associate.
“Drive Less, PADDLE MORE…” With the rising costs of fuel prices the sport and industry sees a new and excited potential customer joining the paddling enthusiasts as their hobby and pastime of choice. The service aspect of the shop surpasses anticipation. Bel Haven continues to go global now with shipping capabilities within the continental United States. Internet sales grow and our web site sees six figure hits per week. By now, Bel Haven is servicing the whitewater base within a 200-300 mile radius. Bel Haven Paddlesports is voted “Best At The Shore” by The Press of Atlantic City. James Markel joins the Bel Haven team as Livery Manager and co-shop manager of the Green Bank location.
55 YEARS OF SERVICE! Already, not getting caught behind the tide, the world wide web allows Bel Haven Paddlesports to tap into dot com’s via eBay and shopatron. Bel Haven kicks off the season early with their first “Truckload Sale” in February… Brrr. BHP continues to dazzle the paddling public with gusto that seems to be in the natural history of Bel Haven. It is reported that if they have learned anything during these prestigious years; most importantly they believe… IT IS THAT WE ARE ALL BETWEEN SWIMS! Congratulations!
“BEL-ANOMICS”… Recession, OPEC prices, foreclosure, global warming; these are the “catch phrases” of the times. HOWEVER, in our community, it’s value, alternatives, natural resources, customer service excellence, stewardship, experience & green solutions! So… although, 2009 appears to be one of fundamental transition both economically and politically Bel Haven Paddlesports is committed to our core business philosophy of quality outdoor recreation. These are the principals that have kept us “afloat” through decades. 2009 Motto: “Wear your PFD. Keep your head above water!”