Marina/tour boar operator Garrison working through COVID challenges

It was looking like his best year yet.

As Mark Garrison looked at the summer of 2020, everything was in place. The owner and operator of Hidden Treasure Charters and the operator of the Horseshoe Bend Marina was optimistic that this summer would be a banner season. The National Park Service had upgraded the marina building including a brand new commercial kitchen, Garrison put in a new outdoor eating area on the back deck, Hidden Treasure had built up a complete line of rental items for playing in the bay and bookings were going well, many of them international.

Then COVID-19 struck – and everything changed.

Mark and Kim Garrison pose in front of the newly-revamped kitchen at the Horseshoe Bend Marina last week. The marina is open for business daily, and the Hidden Treasure Charters tour boat will soon be in operation.
David Peck photo

Garrison and his wife, Kim, have run the marina as a Park Service concessionaire for 11 years now, and he’s run the tour boat for 15 years. So he’s seen his share of ups and downs in the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, but nothing like the effects of the national and international shutdowns caused by the pandemic.

But Garrison is pressing on. He opened the marina for the season on May 22, and while customers can shop for fishing supplies, snacks and more inside the building, food is served outside on the deck or can be taken out.

“The boat launch is open with the courtesy dock in place,” Garrison said during an interview Thursday afternoon. “There have been a few boaters today, and the weekends have been pretty crowded.”

 Garrison said a brand new concessions dock, at which boaters can rent slips on a daily, monthly or seasonal basis, was to open Monday, June 8, and Bighorn Canyon Chief of Maintenance Tyler
Ennis said the dock was indeed being installed early this week.

Among the improvements made to the marina building last year were a new ramp and deck modification for ADA compliance, new siding and flooring and a fire suppression grill hood, which allowed a griddle and deep fat fryer to be added to the kitchen. The gleaming stainless steel commercial kitchen was completed this spring with new counters and cabinets, and Garrison himself put in new tables and benches on the deck, which he calls “The Rusty Anchor.” The deck and ramps are freshly stained.

“It has allowed us to expand the menu,” Garrison said of the revamped kitchen. “We have pretty good fish and chips and hand cut fries.”

The marina operation has a malt beverage license, and the Garrisons offer a happy hour Friday and Saturday evenings from 4:30 to 6 p.m. featuring a dollar off beers
and appetizers.

“We have several different appetizers including something like a Bloomin’ Onion (at Outback Steakhouse),” Garrison said. “We cook (and serve) with masks on now, and we always used gloves. There’s hand
sanitizer, and we are cleaning everything.”

The marina offers a variety of water toys for rent including a pontoon boat, motorboat, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards.

That’s the good news. The news that comes with COVID-19 restrictions isn’t so rosy.

Garrison’s large tour boat, Belle, holds up to 45 passengers, but with social distancing requirements, he’s limited to 25 passengers, he said. Regular two-hour tours will be offered at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. once the season begins, and Garrison said he is shooting for June 20. He was planning to hold the Mustang Days fireworks this year, as the firemen did in the past, and he even had sponsors lined up. But that went by the wayside with the COVID crisis.

“We had to cancel the fireworks. COVID hit us like a ton of bricks,” he said. “There’s no international market at all, and we get a ton of international travelers…We had
to cancel our dinner cruise, which was very popular. You can’t serve food like that.

“We’ve had to cancel 10 large groups so far.”

Garrison has also had to cancel the Full Moon Parties for now, and a planned steakhouse challenge has been cancelled.

On a positive note, the Park Service has upgraded the Horseshoe Bend Campground to add several full utility sites with electricity and water, and the campground has been busy.

Reservations for the campground, tour boat, boat rentals, dock slips and picnic pavilion can be made at www.horseshoebend-marina.com.

Asked if there are any special plans for the summer, Garrison replied, “Survive.” And he added, “It’s been a challenge trying to figure this out. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The Horseshoe Bend Marina is open seven days a week: Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 9 to 4. For more information, call 307-899-1401 or 548-7230.

By David Peck