LANSING — Despite the most unusual summer in the history of West Virginia’s whitewater rafting industry, the CEO of one of the biggest rafting companies said he believes the 2020 Gauley rafting season has the potential to be very solid.
“America wants to get outdoors,” said Roger Wilson, president and CEO of Adventures on the Gorge in Fayette County.
The whitewater rafting industry was forced to close down for several weeks when the pandemic first hit. Eventually as the state reopened, Gov. Jim Justice lifted the moratorium and placed restrictions on rafting. Among those restrictions are limits on the number of people riding shuttle buses, a limit of eight persons to a raft, and no mixing of groups from different parties on a rafting trip. According to Wilson, they were also forced to make changes in how lunch was served on the river, but after navigating the guidelines all summer, the outcome has been pleasantly surprising.
“Like any business we try to run as efficiently as we can. There are a few challenges with Covid, but as far as when we’re on the river, it’s a great place to be in the beautiful sunshine and it’s actually a pretty low-risk place to be,” he said.
Wilson said numbers for the summer were surprisingly steady. Other amenities at his resort, like the Zip Line and Canopy Tour, enjoyed a good season and their lodging was very busy. Since shuttles can only run at about 50 percent capacity, it requires more bus trips to get guests to and from the water and results in additional fuel expenditures, but he added even those costs are somewhat offset by the lower price for fuel this summer.
Another adjustment in 2020, according to the industry, is the amount of “walk-up” business. Wilson said people have become much more likely to make their decision to take a trip at the last minute rather than making reservations ahead of time.
The biggest challenge has just been finding help.
“Like a lot of other businesses we are short employees. It’s been especially challenging in finding bus drivers with a CDL. If anybody is out there who is looking for some weekend work for about six weeks, give us a call,” he said.
The Gauley season for 2020 will run from Sept. 11 through Oct. 17. Typically it would end on Bridge Day weekend. However, Bridge Day 2020 was canceled earlier this year. Wilson didn’t anticipate the cancellation of the celebration would have a large impact on their business.