By ANDREA LANNOM
BECKLEY, W.Va. — Thrill seekers and businesses alike are gearing up for this year’s Gauley Season, which starts today.
The New River Gorge CVB estimates more than 44,000 people raft the Gauley River during the season. Mandy Wriston, travel specialist with the New River Gorge CVB, said Gauley Season is an exciting time for the region.
“The atmosphere here in Fayette County is almost electric,” she said. “It’s always a favorite time of the year. It pumps extra money into the economy. It’s a very, very busy time when the water is released from the dam.”
Releases are coordinated to allow whitewater outfitters to schedule 22 days of trips down the upper and lower Gauley River, according to the New River Gorge CVB.
Releases are scheduled from Friday through Monday, starting the Friday after Labor Day. There are five weeks of four-day releases and in the last week, water is only released on Saturday and Sunday, according to the New River Gorge CVB.
Wriston said the season brings an extension of the economic boost from the New River season.
“For an area that doesn’t have any major economic boost 365 days a year, Gauley Season is like a last dance with Bridge Day as the grand finale,” Wriston said. “It’s the last day of what we call tourism season.”
“It’s additional money we wouldn’t have if the New Season ended in August,” Wriston later added. “It extends our season in a different and exciting way. It’s something that the businesses need and look forward to.”
“When Gauley Season starts, everybody can’t wait,” Wriston said. “Everybody gets excited. People say ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Easter.’ Here, it’s ‘Happy Gauley Season.’”
Bobby Bower, executive director for the West Virginia Professional River Outfitters, called it “bonus season” for the region.
“It’s really busy. It’s four-day weekends all the way up until Bridge Day. If it wasn’t for the Gauley, once kids go back to school, it would slow down,” he said. “With Gauley Season, hotel rooms and cabins are full, people are eating at local restaurants and there are lines at the gas stations again. And it’s money that trickles to the rest of the state. There’s a great amount of tax revenue for the whole state of West Virginia.”
Bower said Gauley Season attracts people from all over the country and the world. He said he manufactures rafts and in his travels around the country, people know the Gauley River.
“A lot of people look forward to Gauley Season release as far away as California or New Zealand and stick around for the six-week season. We are hoping for good weather, no big hurricanes, safe runs and good times.”
“In the fall when they draw down the Summersville Lake, it’s the best whitewater anywhere in the world this time of year,” Bower said. “It’s very well known worldwide and it definitely puts West Virginia on the map.”
According to the New River CVB, the upper section of the Gauley to the dam is about 10 miles downstream and drops an average of almost 70 feet per mile. The Upper Gauley has five Class V rapids. The Gauley has more than 60 Class III or better rapids on its 25 miles of whitewater.
Bower said the upper stretch has steep drops, is really fast and really technical.
“You definitely want to know you’re a fan of whitewater rafting before you step into a boat on the Upper Gauley,” he said. “The lower is a phenomenal river and one of my favorites anywhere in the country. For first timers, it’s no problem. You don’t have to be experienced.”
“The lower section of the Gauley is similar to the New River in classification,” he said. “There are big long rapids with big waves. It’s in my opinion one of the most underrated sections of the river in the world. But you can be a first timer and get out on the lower Gauley and have a blast.”
Marianne Taylor, executive director of the Summersville CVB, also said Nicholas County experiences an economic boost from the season.
“We welcome everyone who comes and we invite everyone to stay in Summersville and enjoy rafting on the Gauley,” Taylor said. “We are fortunate to have Summersville Lake and because of that lake, we have Gauley season.”
Taylor said Summersville especially becomes alive during Gauley Fest, which runs Sept. 14-17.
“That’s when a lot of folks come into Nicholas County Veterans Memorial Park,” she said. “There is a big vendor area. You can get anything and everything you want to buy relating to the outdoors.”
Gauley Fest is hosted by American Whitewater and is their biggest fundraiser, according to their website. All proceeds from the festival supports American Whitewater’s river conservation and access works through the nation.
“A lot of folks camp at the park, rent out the park area and rent the cabins in the park area,” she said. “Some of the folks at the campgrounds and are here for several days so there is definitely a lot of discretionary spending. It’s a definite boost to the economy. We definitely look forward to welcoming Gauley Fest every year.”
— Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom