Navigating a whitewater rapid on the New River is best accomplished when paddlers work as a team, which is why 10 years ago the owners of three competing rafting outfitters in West Virginia (and, later, a fourth) merged into a single resort.
It’s how Adventures on the Gorge was created, says Dave Arnold, marketing director for the resort and a co-founder of one of its original member companies.
“It wasn’t easy taking four distinct and strong company cultures — we even argued over who made the best ice to put in the coolers — and getting them to head in the same direction together,” Arnold said.
“But as Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal when describing West Virginia as a whole — ‘It’s fun to see cultures collide, because that’s one of the ways you know they still exist.”
Rivermen, Songer Whitewater, Mountain River Tours, and Class VI River Runners all enjoyed celebrity status among eastern U.S. outfitters in the 1970s as rafting boomed and the nearby New and Gauley River gained fame as accessible whitewater runs.
Participation peaked in the ’90s, however, and the number of rafters began dropping. Outfitters either closed their doors, merged with others, or looked for new ways to generate business from related revenue sources.
Class VI, Rivermen, and Mountain River Tours merged their operations in 2008, named the new entity Adventures on the Gorge (AOTG), and embarked upon aggressive expansion plans. Songer Whitewater joined the company in 2011.
The new company consolidated on the Class VI campus on the rim of the New River Gorge just north of Fayetteville and the New River Gorge Bridge. At the time, Class VI operated a restaurant, bar, retail operation, eight cabins, and various campsites that were mainly frequented by guests who rafted during the day.
The company has since added the Lookout Post Conference Center, a pool, 121 cabins, campgrounds, TimberTrek Aerial Adventure Park, TreeTops Canopy Tour, BridgeWalk, Gravity Zip Lines, Buffler’s Pizzeria, the Rendezvous Lounge and a second retail store.
While rafting is still the main draw — attracting tens of thousands of people annually —other activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking, stand-up paddleboarding, and lake sports are gaining in popularity. Rock climbing in southern West Virignia is world-class.
Expansion plans meant there was plenty of work to go around, and the new entity found jobs for all employees. Dave Arnold and Jeff Proctor, of Class VI, Brian Campbell, of Rivermen, and Len Hanger, of Songer Whitewater, each accepted positions as senior managers and are still with the company.
“We look back fondly on the days when we were all out on the river during the day and living in tents at night, but the industry has matured and people expect more when they come here,” Arnold said.
“Fortunately, by consolidating our operations, we can offer an unparalleled outdoor-adventure experience combined with creature comforts, good food, and entertainment. For us, that’s just plain good business.”
One key to that good business approach, he said, had been bringing a chief executive officer from outside the organization. In 2013 the company conducted a search for a CEO and hired hospitality executive Dave Hartvigsen.
With 40 years of hospitality experience in operating commercial hotels, destination resorts, and adventure businesses, he had a true passion for the outdoors and an all-inclusive consensus-building approach, Arnold said.
Hartvigsen said he’s been driven to follow the company’s mission to lead in the tourism industry and in encouraging outdoor recreation.
“Today, we are all about living up to our vision statement of Leading the World Outdoors,” Hartvigsen said.
“This vision is not only about our desire to be the very best in the adventure industry, but to primarily encourage our guests to get outdoors and experience the things that we love in nature and adventure.
“The beating heart of our company is still tied to the river culture, but the other adventures that we have introduced have broadened our offering tremendously.
Hartvigsen said he saw an opportunity as an outsider to bring a new perspective to speed up the transition from rafting outfitters to more broad-based providers of adventure and hospitality.
“AOTG is a company with dynamic entrepreneurial leaders, loyal and highly capable teammates, and an extremely bright future.
“We face challenges like any other business or industry, but our main goal is getting everybody aimed at the same vision, paddling as one through the obstacles we face together.”
Find out more about Whitewater Rafting!
Whitewater Rafting is among the most popular forms of outdoor recreation in West Virginia. Every year thousands of visitors climb aboard rafts and paddle through its rapids.
Whitewater Rafting Rivers