Way down yonder, not far from Grove City, smiling faces are easy to come by.

Way down yonder, not far from Grove City, smiling faces are easy to come by.

"Don't tip me," Kingston Middle School principal Drenda Kemp said with a smile last week as she climbed into a kayak to head four miles down Big Darby Creek with about 10 other colleagues.

"We'll be the first ones to tip over," said a smiling 12-year-old, Katie Hutchinson.

With summer in full swing, Jason Kaufman, owner of Trapper John's Canoe Livery, said he and his crew have been working some long hours.

But the rewards are worth the work.

"Beat's the heck out of sitting in a cubicle," he said. "It's all smiling faces."

Kemp and Katie are repeat customers. There are many more like them.

"They're enjoying it for what it's worth," Kaufman said. "They all have a blast."

Located in Darbydale, Trapper John's offers four- and six-mile trips down Big Darby Creek. For folks more enthusiastic about the outdoors, there are also full-day and overnight trips.

Canoeing season goes from about Memorial Day to Labor Day, and the livery has about 90 canoes and 60 kayaks, Kaufman said.

Sometimes that's not even enough.

"At about 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, there wasn't one boat left," said Kaufman's right-hand man, Tony Dandera.

Dandera has worked for the livery for six years; the past two years have been great, but the first four lacked the same good quality fun, he said.

Those first four years were during Trapper John's era of "ca-brewing," where most customers came to float down the river to get into alcohol-related nonsense, Dandera said.

"That's not good for business," Dandera said. "We're trying to get back to being family-oriented."

The policy change is indeed apparent with a "No Beer Parties" sign hanging at the registration desk.

Employees also will take alcohol from would-be boaters if the need arises, Dandera said.

Dandera said as an employee he goes down the creek about three times a week.

"Just being out here every day is great," he said.

Trip coordinator Jessica Barton said she likes the night trips, especially when there's a full moon.

Creek activities include fishing, swimming and hunting for other edible wildlife. There are about 100 species of fish and 40 species of mollusk in the creek, Dandera said.

The fish are apparently friendly, as well.

Dandera remembered one fish that jumped in the lap of a lady tubing down the creek, as well as many other anecdotes from his six years at Trapper John's.

"If I had a camera on my forehead, I'd be rich," he said.

Kaufman, who's "35 years young", has been working in the business since he was 17. He and his father obtained the business through different relatives, and over time Kaufman said he started to make more and more decisions, eventually to become owner.

"I'm kind of a control freak," he said. "I like to have my hands in everything."

In the off season, Kaufman said he would "work for the man" at malls or at a package handling company. Later he got a business degree from Columbus State Community College and started a Web site.

The Web site, he said, is great for getting information to customers; they come more prepared and more knowledgeable for a boating trip.

"Who would've ever thought that computers and the Internet would be good for canoe-ers," Kaufman said.

For more information, see trapperjohnscanoeing.com.

ebrooks@thisweeknews.com