Cut Bait is open for business -- and it has been since late last week.
The Chattahoochee River whitewater course rapid that one West Virginia safety expert called "notorious," was reopened to paying customers by outfitter Whitewater Express and Uptown Columbus Inc., the nonprofit downtown development corporation that manages the new Chattahoochee River Park.
The rapid was off-limits to paying customers for a couple of weeks after Whitewater Express and Uptown Inc. required additional training for guides running excursions through the rapid at high flow.
Cut Bait sealed its reputation as a big-
water rapid on May 26, the day after the country's newest whitewater course opened.
At least 10 of 17 rafts -- many with guides that now would not meet the new Cut Bait training guidelines -- flipped and dumped more than 70 swimmers into the rapid. All of them flushed out into calm water with no reported injuries.
That led Uptown Inc. to bring Charlie Walbridge, former safety chairman of the American Whitewater Association, to Columbus to evaluate the course and rapid. "They have a notorious rapid and need to make sure they fully inform people what they are getting into," Walbridge said. "But you don't have to run Cut Bait to have a great experience."
The success rate is much greater as river guides are trained on the lines through the rapid, Whitewater Express owner Dan Gilbert said Tuesday.
"We have run about 10 trips and we are seeing about an 80 percent success rate," Gilbert said. The company defines success as a raft navigating the swift water without flipping and dumping the customers into the Chattahoochee.
Additional training for the guides has been part of the plan to get cleaner runs, Gilbert said. Before a guide is certified to run Cut Bait, they must make at least 15 trips through the rapid, five of them as the guide. They then must take a raft with a lead guide and paid customers through Cut Bait.
Currently, seven of the roughly 25 Whitewater Express guides are qualified to run paid trips through Cut Bait.
That is double what it was two weeks ago, and about six or seven should complete the additional training in the new few days.
"We are working on it every day," Gilbert said.
Uptown Inc. President Richard Bishop said the guides are getting more experience at handling the tricky waters.
"I think we have enough training," Bishop said. "They have developed a line through the rapid and the guides are getting familiar with it."
Bishop and Gilbert stress that running Cut Bait is a choice each rafter must make. The Cut Bait run at high flow is the second trip of a two-trip run that starts with the tamer rapid next to Cut Bait on the Georgia side.
After the first run, rafters go on an island between the two rapids, scout Cut Bait and talk about the lines needed to get through it. At that point, people can opt out and rerun the Georgia-side rapid.
"We have had a couple of trips where everybody opted out of Cut Bait," Gilbert said.
A new wrinkle is Whitewater Express guides are taking trips through Cut Bait at low flow, when it is a much-less challenging rapid. The company was not doing that in the first few weeks of business.
"People get to say they went through Cut Bait, but saying that is not the same thing as saying you went through Cut Bait at high flow," Gilbert said.