March 1, 2010
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History (WVDCH) will celebrate a new exhibit, Whitewater Rafting: West Virginia’s Gift to the World!, with an opening reception on Tuesday, March 2, at 6 p.m., at the Culture Center, State Capitol Complex in Charleston. The exhibition and reception are free and the public is invited to attend.
The evening will begin with a program in the Norman L. Fagan West Virginia State Theater. Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith of the WVDCH will make opening remarks and introduce guest speakers including Cabinet Secretary Kay Goodwin of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, Commissioner Betty Carver of the Division of Tourism, and Mark Lewis of West Virginia Professional River Outfitters. The program also includes the film Paddles of the Past, a 15-minute production about the history of rafting, particularly commercial rafting, on the New and Gauley Rivers. Eric Palfrey produced the film which was commissioned to celebrate the 40-year anniversary of the first commercial whitewater trip in West Virginia.
Rafting is an activity almost anyone can do and there are a variety of trips and packages available, suitable for all ages, experience levels, groups, families or corporations. From a summer job, to a $40 million industry, West Virginia has become known for “America’s Best Whitewater.”
In 1965, whitewater rafting in West Virginia got its start from a handful of paddlers who rode the New River in canoes. Two of these were Paul Davidson and Bob Burrell. Soon others joined in the adventure and started exchanging ideas and information. The first company, Wildwater Unlimited, was formed by the Dragan family in 1968; it was only the third of its kind in the United States. The Dragon’s worked with the state and developed a relationship with the Department of Natural Resources to set safety laws and regulations for rafting. In 1991, a Whitewater Advisory Board was formed, composed of whitewater rafting company officials, private paddlers, private citizens, consumers, fishery officials and the National Park Service.
Kayaking is a sport that goes hand in hand with rafting; many guides often spend their time off padding the river in a “hard” boat. In the 1980s, kayakers became an integral part of the rafting experience when companies starting employing video boaters to kayak along on the raft trips. The kayakers paddle ahead of the rafting groups as they move down the river, setting up at certain strategic rapids to film the experience.
Today, rafters in West Virginia enjoy the Gauley, Cheat, Shenandoah, Big Sandy Creek, Tygart, South Branch of the Potomac, Meadow, Bluestone, and Greenbrier Rivers.
The exhibit has rafts, kayaks, paddles, life jackets, helmets, throw bags (rescue ropes) and other specialized equipment, photographs, newspaper articles, text panels detailing the history of the sport, and more. Objects on display are on loan from a variety of whitewater rafters, kayakers and companies in West Virginia. Paddles of the Past also can be seen on a television set up in the exhibition area.
For more information about the exhibit Whitewater Rafting: West Virginia’s Gift to the World!, contact Charles Morris, collections and exhibits manager for the Division, at (304) 558-0220.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. Its administrative offices are located at the Culture Center in the State Capitol Complex in Charleston, which also houses the state archives and state museum. The Culture Center is West Virginia’s official showcase for the arts. The agency also operates a network of museums and historic sites across the state. For more information about the Division’s programs, visit www.wvculture.org. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.