Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sandpoint Seaplane Service a Great Way to See Sandpoint

Driving north across the Long Bridge into Sandpoint there can be no dispute that this area is one of the most beautiful places in the entire country. In fact in 2001 USA Today called Sandpoint a Norman Rockwell-meets-Ansel Adams classic.

But just when you think it couldn’t get more scenic, imagine taking in the views of the mountains, lakes, rivers and trees from an aerial vantage point.

Sandpoint Seaplane Service, based out of the Dover Bay Resort Marina just west of here, opened in August 2008 and offers everything from tour flights, charter flights, to fly-in wilderness adventures.

Owners Stephen and Darene Ruff say that both residents and visitors enjoy taking in the scenery from an osprey’s view.

“It’s a treat to be able to take folks up and see them enjoy the incredible natural beauty of this area,” said Stephen Ruff. “I’ve flown over a lot of country, including Alaska, and there’s really no place quite like it – the peaks, lakes and rivers are gorgeous any time of year.”

With a variety of options, people can enjoy anywhere from a 20-minute tour to a customized extended tour.

The 20-minute tour takes in a 40-mile loop over the Pack River Delta, Ellisport Bay, the mouth of the Clark Fork River and returns along the Green Monarchs, and Garfield and Bottle Bay. Ruff says a one-hour tour often includes Upper Priest Lake and Montana’s Bull River.

While the clientele is fairly evenly split between tourists and local residents, Ruff said much of the tourist business is generated by local people.

The tours have provided vacation activities, family outings, a treat for those visiting on business trips, a way to scout hunting spots, a tool to be used when locating real estate, and also birthday and anniversary gifts.

“We have had a lot of people in marketing use (the service) for aerial photography,” said Ruff. “We have also had a few people who want to take photos of their own home.”

Sandpoint resident Debbie Heise recently treated her daughter, Mackenzie, and two of her friends to a scenic adventure for Mackenzie’s 15th birthday.

“I asked her what she wanted for her birthday and this is what she came up with,” said Heise. “I thought it was so cool.”

Heise said the flight was her first over the Sandpoint area and was truly an incredible experience.

“It was awesome,” said Heise. “You get such a different feel for what is here from literally a bird’s-eye view.”

Ruff, said Heise, is knowledgeable and treated the teenage girls to a flyover of each of their homes. Each passenger wears earphones equipped with a microphone so they can communicate over the noise of the engine.

One thing that surprised Heise was not only the number of homes she saw, but also how different the vegetation looked from an aerial view.

A noninstrument rated pilot, Ruff has more than 30 years of experience and 7,000 hours of flying time, which includes 12 years flying in the remote Arctic regions of Alaska.

“We made a living up there taking people to places no one else could get them to,” said Ruff.

The couple moved to Sandpoint six years ago. Since that time they have worked toward the goal of opening the flight service which operates summer and winter.

They take the floats off the plane in late fall and put the wheels on giving clients the same opportunity for scenic flights from the Sandpoint Airport during the winter months.

“It is a real treat to go into the back country and see the lakes and rivers,” said Ruff.

The plane used for Sandpoint Seaplane Service is a five-passenger Cessna 206 which, according to Ruff, has the right combination of power, stability and good visibility that makes it perfect for backcountry flying.

Ruff said that anyone interested in a flight should call him ahead of time to schedule.

“We always check the weather and the best time of day to go. This time of year it is better to go in the cooler part of day,” said Ruff. “There is a certain amount of preplanning that goes into every flight. It is important to us that people have an enjoyable time.”

And for those wanting to play a little hooky and take a little longer lunch hour, Ruff says he couldn’t be based out of a better place than the Dover Bay Resort Marina.

“Dover Bay is a great place to operate from, as the climb-out over the river is spectacular. And of course, it’s very convenient. You could eat at the Dover Bay CafĂ© and take in a flight over the lake, all during your lunch hour.”

For more information or to schedule a flight, call Stephen Ruff at (208) 290-3257 or log onto

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