Outfitter adds staff, gear for whitewater course opening day

Outfitter adds staff, gear for opening

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comMay 23, 2013 

Photos by Mike Haskey/mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.comAt left, rafters and their guide float through a rapid just downstream of the old City Mills dam on the Chattahoochee River in April. Top right, Dan Gilbert, president of Whitewater Express, gets a life jacket for a rafter last week. Bottom right, Ashley Turner, right, helps Marie Moshell adjust her helmet Wednesday morning prior to going on a rafting trip with Whitewater Express on the Chattahoochee River.

MIKE HASKEY

The Chattahoochee whitewater outfitter is going all in to ensure anyone who wants to raft the 2.5-mile course on opening day Saturday will get that chance.

Dan Gilbert of Whitewater Express said Wednesday that he is bringing in extra rafts and river guides to boost the number of customers he can accommodate, which typically is about 80 a day.

Bookings for opening day were starting to fill up, but slots remain for anyone who still wants to try out the course but hasn't made reservations, he said.

Just don't expect to be on the inaugural trip departing at 9:30 a.m.

"Our first trip of the morning is booked solid," Gilbert said. "We've got more trips officially scheduled during the day, and all of them are very close to being full, but we do have space on each of those right now. I anticipate those filling prior to the weekend."

But with additional equipment and staff, anyone could get a last-minute chance to ride the river, he said: "We want anybody. If they want to walk up and go, we would much prefer to help them out, and get them on the river."

Saturday's official schedule beyond the first excursion has trips set for 10:30 and 11:30 a.m., and for 1:30, 3:30, and 5:30 p.m.

Those who'd rather not ride the big wave of first-day excursions have plenty of time to catch up, Gilbert said: Whitewater Express plans to run five trips a day, seven days a week.

Gilbert said those who'd prefer to raft on a holiday weekend will find plenty of room left on trips for the next holiday, July 4, because that's when families usually travel out of town on vacation, rather than stay home to raft. And with so many families vacationing, church and business group bookings also fall off.

Typically each raft runs with six customers and a guide, but if a family of four wants an individual raft, Whitewater Express tries to accommodate that, he said.

"We've got groups booked all through the summer," he said. So far those making reservations include contingents from Atlanta and Covington, Ga., and from around Dothan, Ala., he said.

One longer-range marketing goal is to spread the word across the country, Gilbert said: "This weekend is just fun for the community. Our job then is to start, from now through the next two years, letting everybody from Texas to Florida to Michigan know about the Chattahoochee."

Whitewater trips range from $32.50 an individual to $48.50, depending on length and level of water flow. The lower price is for one trip downriver; the higher for two runs.

Customers can make reservations online at www.whitewaterexpress.com or call 1-800-676-7238.

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