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Running Rivers During COVID-19: How Northwest Rafting Company Adapted to the Pandemic

In 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic brought uncertainty and change for Northwest Rafting Company, causing a late start to our rafting season. We were fortunate to complete our summer trips this year, taking our responsibility for trip health and safety extremely seriously.

Making dinner during our Middle Fork of the Salmon duckie trip during the pandemic at Northwest Rafting
Making dinner during our Middle Fork of the Salmon duckie trip

While we could not eliminate the risk of COVID-19 entirely, we did not have any known transmission resulting from our season. We look back to share all we learned and recognize the team effort between guests, guides, and outfitters that pulled this off.

Responding to New Situations

This past spring permitted very little rafting, but gave us the time to formulate our pandemic protocols responding to COVID-19. New information, new cases, and new regulations muddied the waters, but we settled on asking one question:

How do we create a new culture of health and safety while still running meaningful outdoor trips?

To answer our question, we drew from outfitter meetings, our own guides, and current science to build our comprehensive COVID-19 Mitigation Plan. This plan was about creating an environment that built physical distancing and sanitation into the trip structure. For example, on the river we matched the number and type of boats to every traveling group. Off the river, we set up drink coolers and kitchen tables an appropriate distance apart. Around common areas, we laid rope boundaries in the sand to remind us to stay 6 feet apart and wash our hands before handling food and water. After the trip, Northwest Rafting followed up with guests and guides alike to make sure everyone was healthy.

Our protocols can easily be summed up into five rules, shown in this video and sent to everyone before the trip:

The Summer Season: A Team Effort

While the pandemic encourages us to maintain our distance, it actually takes a close rafting team to keep everybody safe. Behind the scenes, outfitters communicated frequently and worked hard to set trip standards. They looked at the latest research on transmission and government regulations for guidance and support.

At Northwest Rafting Company, we built our protocols upon these standards. Guides met virtually in the spring to brainstorm and think creatively about our trips. The protocols were written by guides, then guide tested, and later guide approved. We maintained these protocols on the river and at the warehouse between trips all summer. In addition, we continued to adapt our protocols mid-season, especially around masks, to match published study results.

Group photo during the pandemic at Northwest Rafting
Social distancing, family grouping, and masks for a group photo

Once floating on the river, our five rules helped establish a realistic baseline for guides and guests. We ran smaller trips with more guides to better facilitate swimming, hiking, and exploring. Like always, inflatable kayaking (“ducky-ing”) was a fantastic way to up the adventure.

Inflatable kayaking is a great way to socially distance
Inflatable kayaking is a great way to socially distance

Guides and guests wore masks around food and in transportation, and otherwise took advantage whenever possible of living outside and spreading out. Some creative standout activities this summer included building homemade kites and ammo can tug-o-war tournaments. Whether an outrageous water fight or a relaxing creek hangout, we still found the ability to tailor experiences to every group.

Finally, our amazing guests stayed flexible and positive throughout our trips. They gave us valuable feedback, especially early on to help us smooth out our practices. We cannot thank you enough for making our summer as fantastic as it was.

What is next?

This year we sought to set the standard on trip health and safety. Next year we will continue to do so, starting with the Spring Class IV Rowing Schools, Owyhee, and Illinois trips. The Northwest Rafting Virtual Rafting Training opportunities are also expanding, another COVID-friendly option to still gain additional whitewater skills. The pandemic circumstances continue to change, but with your help Northwest Rafting will assess and once again adapt to the times as necessary.

Rowing schools are another great way to socially distance on the river
Rowing schools are another great way to socially distance on the river

We hope that we created a time for recharge, reflection, and freedom this past summer. We also look forward again to spending physically distanced times with everyone outside, but nonetheless establishing good friendships and fun experiences on the river.

Originally Published: | Updated on | Categorized under: Office News

Post Author

Ellie Friedmann

Ellie is a New Mexico native and studied Biochemistry and Plan II at the University of Texas. While in college she discovered whitewater by canoeing the Rio Grande and then founded the Longhorn Stream Team. She is also interested in freshwater biology and water quality, combining science and river running whenever possible.