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White Water Rafting History

Rafting is a great way to experience nature, while also participating in a bit of West Virginia history. Throughout the years, some form of rafting has been utilized as a method of transportation along the white water, but its history as a recreational activity is relatively short. However, over the years, some fun facts have surfaced about the development of water from a explorer’s tool to the sport as we know it today.

The first recorded whitewater rafting expedition was by Colonel John Fremont of the US Army. He traveled along the Platte River, located in Nebraska. Rather than using the equipment we come to expect today, Fremont assembled independently wrapped rubber tubes and connected them to a floor to create a makeshift raft!

In West Virginia, exploration of the rivers began in the 1950’s and 1960’s, not with rafts; but with canoes! At this time Paul Davidson and Bob Burrell began to explore and push for rafting as recreation. Many people thought they were crazy, but they were the beginning of a new era of sports. Paul and Bob, along with a few others created the “West Virginia Wildwater Association” which united them and others in their pursuit of a recognized, standardized white water system.

Some say that rafting began when Lewis and Clark were sent westward to explore. It is said that they chose rafting as a travel method to help them cover the most ground in the most efficient manner possible, while also exploring the depths of the wilderness. Much of the information they had about the rivers and the routes came from the Nez Indians.

So next time you are out on the water, just remember, you are also a part of a growing history and tradition of West Virginia and the US. Sit up, look forward, and enjoy the ride!




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