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A whole raft of fun

Family’s makeshift adventure on the Conestogo River leads to an ongoing series of stories in St. Jacobs

As a mode of transportation, the raft is more commonly associated with Huck Finn and other 19th century rascals than with the kids of today. In St. Jacobs, however, rafts are making a comeback. A local family was surprised to find that the raft they built and left on the Conestogo River, just north of the fire station, has become a popular prop for adventure-seekers.

Liz and Keith Shantz’s raft has become a popular destination for adventure-seekers in St. Jacobs.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
Liz and Keith Shantz’s raft has become a popular destination for adventure-seekers in St. Jacobs. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
“Kids spend enough time in the house on their videogames and whatnot,” said Liz Shantz, grandmother of six. “We like to see them out and enjoying nature. This was the greatest idea my husband came up with.”

Keith Shantz, Liz’s husband, conceived the raft as an activity for their grandchildren (ages 5 to 10) during the summer months. “We’ve been doing some canoeing in the past, but we didn’t have a canoe available this year, and I said to my husband, ‘What are we going to do?’ He goes, ‘I dunno. I always liked making a raft when I was little, so maybe that’s what we should do.’”

She laughed. “Anyway, later that day I said, ‘I like that idea, can we make it happen?’”

And thus, the family gathered some wood and fence posts. “The morning after the kids slept over, Keith told them, ‘We’re going to make a raft.’ They said, ‘Sweet!’ – not really knowing what this involves.”

After a little bit of labour, the raft was sturdy enough to accommodate six kids and drift along the Conestogo River.

“They spent the day out here just having a blast – they said it was ‘the coolest thing ever,’” said Shantz.

“At the end of the weekend, the kids said, ‘What are we going to do with this thing? Where are we going to keep it?’

“My husband said, ‘We’ll keep it down here!’ ‘Well, won’t it get stolen? Won’t somebody take it?’ He says, ‘Oh, do you think?’”

And thus, an honour system was born when one of the kids came up with the idea to leave a box with a note saying, ‘You may use the raft, but please return.’ The next time they visited the raft, the family was surprised to find greetings in the box.

“People started putting notes in here,” said Shantz, reading from the letters. “‘Thank you for sharing your raft with us, it’s been great.’ We’ve got over 40 people who have left notes. We’ve got people from Trinidad, the Netherlands and Germany, all saying, ‘What a great idea,’ ‘Thanks for the adventure.’ … A boy who is 13 said he used it for his birthday, and he said it was the best birthday ever.”

The family left a guestbook, which quickly filled up with appreciative comments. “We’ve kept it here to see who’s using the raft,” Shantz said. “We never thought it would come to this, that so many people would write in this journal here.”

All of the guests have tied the raft up when they were through, and it has never become a target for vandalism. In fact, when the original oar went missing, visitors left replacements. “You don’t get that too much these days, and that’s just wonderful to see,” said Shantz.

“I think it’s just important that kids get back to being outside, and we’re thrilled that other people are enjoying it.”

And if the raft goes missing?

“If it were to disappear, we had our summer, we had our fun. But obviously, people enjoy using it and are tying it back up.”

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