Decline in Customers Slows on Fast-Flowing WV Rivers
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
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