FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — The annual Gauley River rafting season starts this week in southern West Virginia. The eventual annual draws more than 50,000 rafting enthusiasts to the region for a wild ride down a wilder river.
“Energy wise this is the biggest season of the year,” said Dave Arnold with Adventures on the Gorge. “Financially as a business person, this is what makes or breaks an outfitter.”
There is added emphasis on this year’s season however since it marks a milestone in West Virginia whitewater history. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the first trips down the Gauley River riding the release from Summersville Dam.
“In 1968 two trips happened that changed everything,” Arnold explained. “One was a rafting trip by Wildwater Unlimited led by John Dragon. The other was a kayak expedition with six boaters that ran the whole section from the dam to Swiss.”
According to Arnold until that time, most who dared to run the white water looked at the release and wondered allowed if they could actually run the river at the peak of the release and survive. The two 1968 trips proved it was possible and the season was born.
It was several years later the annual draw down of Summersville Lake became a priority to benefit the industry.
“We had problems during drought years and we got Congress to run a bill that was signed by President Carter to make whitewater a project purpose downstream of Summersville Dam,” Arnold explained. “So, yes, today it is a project purpose, prior to that is was mainly, ‘Hey, this looks like fun.””
The original members of that first expedition on the Gauley back in 1968 will be getting together September 16th at Adventures on the Gorge to talk about those first trips and what they were like. Five of the six will be there for the event.
“The sixth guy was a grad student at Penn State and he was from Czechoslovakia. Nobody can find him,” Arnold explained. “But this was 50 years ago and they were all in their 20’s then. This probably will be one of the last times we can get them all together.”
The Gauley Season runs for the next seven weekends and will culminate with the annual Bridge Day activities on October 20.