Outfitter: Lower prices meant to get people on river

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comMay 18, 2013 

  • HOW TO BOOK

    There are three ways to book a rafting or kayak trip with Whitewater Express, the officially sanctioned outfitter for the Chattahoochee River Park in Columbus.

    • Visit the company’s store in Phenix Plaza, just across the 13th Street bridge in Phenix City

    • Visit the company online at www.whitewaterexpress.com or call 1-800-676-7238

    • Book at The Outside World, an outdoors specialty retailer at 1025 Broadway in Columbus. Call 706-322-4200

    AGE REQUIREMENTS

    • Low flow: 7 years old or 60 pounds.

    • High flow: 12 years old or older.

Those considering taking a ride on the wild side this coming weekend on the Chattahoochee River should expect to pay $48.50 per person for a high-water run and $32.50 for the tamer low-water trip.

But that's sharply less than the $80 and $50 per trip, respectively, that was mentioned earlier this year before Bryson City, N.C.-based Nantahala Outdoor Center pulled out of the market suddenly earlier this month.

"If you're the only guy on the block, you can call the shots," said Dan Gilbert, president of Atlanta-based Whitewater Express, which now is the only outfitter sanctioned by Uptown Columbus Inc. to operate commercial trips on the 2.5-mile stretch of the river between Columbus and Phenix City.

"We like volume. We like to get people out there and enjoy the experience. That's what's important to us," he said of the decision to cut rates to their current levels and keep them there through 2013.

"We just want people on the river."

Calling this a "building season," Gilbert estimates he will put 6,000 to 8,000 people on the river this year in Columbus.

There also are plans to add a zipline over the Chattahoochee, hopefully to be in place by this fall.

Whitewater Express, which has an office in Phenix Plaza in Phenix City, also will look to add kayaking and fly-fishing clinics, as well as bicycle tours on the Riverwalk, at some point.

"I like pricing that gets people out there," he said of potential rates he might charge for the extra activities.

"We want to focus on the river for a short time and make sure we've got that going very well."

With Nantahala Outdoor Center exiting the picture, Whitewater Express also is now working with The Outside World on Broadway in Columbus to sell trips.

"We're delighted with our space over here in Phenix City," Gilbert said. "But we're looking forward to opening space on the Columbus side as well."

The Outside World manager and buyer Rachel Conort said the retailer has been seeing its business increase steadily from the whitewater park for months.

Kayaking classes are now up to a couple a week, with a full-day course for four people costing $250.

That includes a custom-fitted kayak, helmet, life vest and paddle.

"That's definitely going to pick up because as families come down and they're rafting and see the kayakers out there beside them, they're going to want to be able to do that as well," Conort said.

There also are kayak and equipment rentals for $50 per 24-hour period. The Outside World will sell you a kayak as well, with the price tag ranging from $900 to $1,100.

Gilbert envisions business ramping up as current customers who typically drive all the way to West Virginia or Tennessee decide to experience the Chattahoochee River closer to home, saving travel time and costs. He believes groups from southern portions of Georgia, Alabama and Florida will stop in Columbus to check things out, while some kayak and rafting enthusiasts from the North will likely visit as the fall and winter chill and snows settle in at their summer recreation spots.

"Here the season almost doesn't end. We'll be running the river into November easily," he said, possibly longer. "I don't see why not. We're open year-round, and we may run year-round."

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