Jim Redline used to wonder what was around the bend of a creek he saw while driving to college in Fredonia. Now, he and Ken Ahlstrom, head guide and river operations director, of Zoar Valley Canoe and Rafting, take others to find out: while whitewater rafting.
“Rafting through the gorge is a great way to see nature at her finest,” said Redline, adding “remote wilderness, towering rugged cliffs, bald eagles” are some of the views, not to mention the rapids that can also be experienced. Redline should know. The company he began after wondering about what was beyond the creek bend will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year.
Although he has rafted for a while now, he wants to encourage others to do so, also.
“It’s becoming more difficult to get people away from their computer games and back into the great outdoors,” he said. Once they are, he said, they do not have to worry about being safe on the water. Redline said the life jackets and wetsuits provide flotation for those who use the excuse of not being able to swim as a way to stay inside. Guides, who are all state-licensed and experienced, also travel on the rafting trips.
Trips range from six miles to nine, with costs ranging from $40 to $55 per person depending on trip lengths and when they are taken. Zoar Valley Canoe and Rafting operates weekends from mid-March until May, depending on water levels. Weekday trips can also be arranged for groups of 15 or more.
The first annual Zoar Valley Fest will also be held Saturday, May 12 in Gowanda. Raft rides, hiking, horse-drawn wagon rides, a world premier movie of New York State rivers, outdoor vendors and bands will mark the occasion. More information is available through the Gowanda Chamber of Commerce.Whether they visit the festival or come for a ride, Redline urges people to give rafting a try.
“My experiences are many,” he said, adding, “you should experience your own wilderness adventure, which will not soon be forgotten.”
Kevin Kretschmer of Adventure Calls Outfitters, Inc., agrees the sport is worth trying.
He began his involvement in it by answering an advertisement for raft guides in 1983. Not only did he find a sport, but, also businesses. Kretschmer bought the businesses from previous owner, Terry Shearn, in 1999. It was founded in 1981. Although they previously ran competing businesses, Redline and Kretschmer decided to share the outdoor adventures, offering rafting at different locations.
Adventure Calls Outfitters offers two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hour rides on Cattaraugus Creek in Gowanda, in Letchworth State Park and in Pulaski, New York from mid-March to May for $45 per person plus the cost of wetsuit rental in Gowanda. Costs and times vary for the other locations.
No matter where one decides to raft, however, he thinks it is worth it.
“Rafting is a great bonding experience plus you’re able to see things as you travel through the gorge that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise,” he said. Views are not the only thing rafting has to offer, however, he said.
“What I remember most are the trips we’ve had over the years with guests who thought their physical limitations would somehow prevent them from being able to raft,” he said. “The joy that we are able to bring them by overcoming any challenges that may have presented … means more to us than anything else,” he said. For instance, an older couple paddled with company staff at Letchworth. Although the woman was blind, rafting was “on her bucket list,” he said.
Despite that, her husband was apprehensive about her making the journey. Once it was complete, with full description of the view, he changed his mind. Kevin remembers the husband approaching him with tears in his eyes to thank him for
showing the gorge to his wife.
“We will never forget this glorious day,” Kretschmer remembers the man saying.
Others who want to live it can call Zoar Valley Canoe and Rafting at 1-800-724-0696 or e-mail email@example.com or Adventure Calls Outfitters, Inc. at 1-888-270-2410 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.