FAYETTEVILLE — The rafting and tourism industry reunion kicked off its 40-year celebration of commercial whitewater rafting Friday evening at the Historic Fayette Theatre.

During the ceremony, the Dragan family was recognized and awarded a rafting paddle from the West Virginia rafting outfitter and tourism industry for starting the industry in 1968. Tom Dragan, brother of the late Jon Dragan, whitewater rafting pioneer in West Virginia, said the river has always been a part of his life.

“It’s been my life,” he said. “If you ride the river more than once, it gets in your blood and you just try to find a way that you can work it into your life.”

The people, he says, are the most important aspect.

“A family created the rafting company, but everyone created the industry,” Dragan said.

Congressman Nick Rahall was also recognized for his commitment and support of the industry. Rahall, who says he has been a supporter from the “get-go,” has introduced bills to protect the New River from encroachment and mining and also introduced a bill to expand additional whitewater rafting season starting with Labor Day in the Summersville Dam area.

“It’s been a 30-year vision of mine to see all of this come about and it’s taken a lot of work from the people of the local level and the state and also the Dragan family,” he said. “Not many took him seriously then and didn’t think it would become a reality, but lo and behold, 40 years later, it’s helped out the state of West Virginia so much.”

A documentary was shown chronicling the history of rafting. Directed by Eric Palfrey, the film has been in the making for five years and marks the first documentary to be made for the rafting industry.

According to Palfrey, it was the people who inspired him to make the video.

“I love whitewater rafting and I love the people,” he said. “I would advise people to go whitewater rafting and enjoy southern West Virginia.”

Steve Pilato, representative of the governor’s office, presented certificates to members of the West Virginia Professional River Outfitters celebrating 40 years of active participation in the rafting industry.

“The Dragan family has helped the entire state of West Virginia and I’m proud to watch the transformation take place in what I call my hometown,” Pilato said.

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