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Park Service says Jack’s Boathouse lease is outdated and owner is not on it

Jack's Boathouse rents kayaks, canoes and other watercraft. (Photo by Isaac Brooks)

The National Park Service offered its first public explanation Thursday for sending Jack’s Boathouse an eviction letter, saying the landmark Georgetown business has been operating on a month-to-month lease that was unchanged since 1982 and was not in the name of the current owner.

The business, which rents kayaks, canoes and other watercraft, is owned and run by Paul Simkin, who currently pays $356 in monthly rent for the facility. Park Service spokeswoman Carol Bradley Johnson said the agency was reviewing Jack’s contract in an effort to “regularize the boathouse operation” and bring it in line with other businesses in national parks across the country.

That was when the agency realized his name was not on the lease, Johnson said.

Simkin took the business over when his friend and business partner, Frank Baxter, died in 2009. The business was started by Baxter’s father, Jack Baxter, a D.C. police officer.

“They have had no problem working with me and taking my money for years and years,” Simkin said Thursday. “Why now?”

The Park Service wants a boathouse in that space to operate a concession contract, which would bring in a percentage of sales for the Park Service and “ensure that the nation is receiving fair compensation and that the nation’s natural and cultural resources are protected,” Johnson said.

Simkin’s rent money has been going into a donation account for Georgetown Waterfront Park, Johnson said.

Johnson said the Park Service determined it would be “inappropriate and legally questionable” to offer the concession to Simkin without opening the process up to other bidders. She said Simkin may bid on the contract.

Simkin said he would be open to running the business as a concession and would compete if there was an equal playing field.

“The NPS decided to open the opportunity for the temporary concessions contract to all interested parties,” Johnson said. “A temporary contract would allow the operation of a boathouse at or near the current location beginning next spring.”

While the letter Simkin got said he had to vacate by the end of January, the Park Service put those plans on hold after reviewing hundreds of e-mails from Jack’s customers and friends asking that the business not be shut down.

Now, Simkin is waiting for word from National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis.

“I’m struggling with trying to figure how to move forward,” Simkin said. “I’m running out of time.”

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