I just got back from my trip to West Virginia and North Carolina. I was able to do the famous Upper Gauley and it was worth the hype! You don't know white water rafting until you hit the Gauley. I was an intense trip, with plenty of high water and class 5 rapids. We rafted with a Rafting America partner, Adventures Mountain River. They did an excellent job, with great guides and a fun atmosphere. Because of the dam release, the galley is only open at certain times of the year. Therefore, you have all the rafting companies jam packed on the few days that the Gauley is running.
I was also able to raft the New River, which was not quite as intense, but very scenic and beautiful. It is a good mixture of scenery and adventure. I liked both rivers, and it was fun to get out on the rivers one last time for the season.
The next stop on the trip was down to North Carolina. After visiting some outfitters in North Carolina, my group made our way over to the new National White Water Center in Charlotte. I blogged about the center over the summer, and I am glad to have finally seen it. The center itself is beautiful. Very nice and professional. They re still doing work on the main conference center, but it will be a nice finishing touch to a quality park.
The question that sprang to mind is the effectiveness of integrating the park with the real "outside" sport of kayaking and rafting. My observations about the whole thing is this:
-most white water rafting outfitters see the park as a good thing. I personally talked with many of the largest outfitters in the East Coast, and they like the idea and think it has potential to draw new crowds to the sport.
-the park provides a good option for first-time rafters who are perhaps scared of "real" rafting. Its a great ice-breaker.
-the park has a great opportunity to partner with outside rafting outfitters as a referral for trips.
-the park is a great option for groups and business settings, integrating a nice facility with the adventure on-site as well.
The only real problem right now is that the white water rafting center has not taken advantage of any key partnerships (Red Bull is a sponsor, but not quite what they need). If they can effectively integrate with outside outfitters and cross pollinate the traffic coming in, it could gain the recognition it deserves. Hopefully Rafting America will be able to provide the park with a quality partnership that could work both ways as well.