Decline in Customers Slows on Fast-Flowing WV Rivers

Charleston Gazette-Mail
13 February 2017
By Rick Steelhammer , Staff Writer

The decline in the number of whitewater rafting customers riding the rapids on West Virginia rivers appears to be tapering off, according to recently released outfitter data for 2016 compiled by the state Division of Natural Resources.

Last year, a total of 131,028 customers paid West Virginia rafting outfitters to take guided trips on the New, Gauley, Shenandoah and Cheat rivers, compared with 134,082 in 2015, 130,192 in 2014 and 142,978 in 2013.

“The statewide industry numbers were down just slightly last year from the year before,” said Dave Arnold, spokesman for Adventures on the Gorge near Fayetteville. “We attribute this to the severe flooding, which occurred in June,” near the peak of the whitewater season on the New River, which alone draws more than half of all state rafting customers.

Outfitters on the New and nearby Gauley River guided a total of 100,312 rafting customers down those streams in 2016, compared with 104,999 in 2015, 102,243 in 2014 and 114,130 in 2013. The Shenandoah River in Jefferson County drew 27,504 whitewater customers last year, compared with 26,085 in 2015, while Cheat River outfitters guided 3,182 customers in Preston and Tucker counties last year, up from 3,004 in 2015.

Overall, the number of people riding outfitter-guided rafts down fast-flowing, boulder-strewn West Virginia rivers has dropped nearly in half since 1998, when a total of 251,921 customers were recorded. During that year, 21 outfitting companies were operating on the New and Gauley rivers, which then drew 223,860 customers. Today, eight outfitters serve the region. The drop in customers has been attributed to an aging client base, new competition from other outdoor pursuits and declining interest in outdoor activities by young adults. Many outfitters have consolidated to save operating and marketing costs and have branched into other activities, including mountain biking, rock climbing, bouldering, caving, ATV riding and zipline tours to attract customers.Adventures on the Gorge was the top whitewater outfitter in the state during 2016, guiding 43,481 customers down the New and Gauley rivers, according to DNR data.

We are tremendously proud of our staff for making us the No. 1 river outfitter in West Virginia,” said Dave Hartvig, the company’s chief executive officer. “It’s a competitive industry, and we’re pleased to offer our guests an unforgettable West Virginia experience.”

Reach Rick Steelhammer at, 304-348-5169 or follow