River Conditions

WhiteWater Voyages Media Articles

June 20, 1995
Bakersfield Californian


A Raft of Relaxation

A new ride on the gentler side now available from rafting company

By by Jill Hoffman
Californian Correspondent

LAKE ISABELLA -- Long known for its wild white water, the quiet and more gentle aspects of the Kern River have found a champion in Whitewater Voyages.

Whitewater Voyages, the largest whitewater rafting outfitter in the state, is expanding its operations in the Kern River Valley following successful bid for a special permit awarded by the U.S. Forest Service for the upper Kern.

The issuance of the permit -- which is being appealed by four local whitewater rafting outfitters * -- allows the company to take more visitors into areas of the upper Kern River. Because of the appeal, which is expected to be settled this year, the permit is temporary.

According to company owner Bill McGinnis, the permit not only will allow the company to increase the number of whitewater rafting grips, but develop trips designed for visitors seeking a more tame river experience.

Scenic, natural history float trips down the Kern River, McGinnis said, will enable everyone from very small children to seniors and the handicapped to enjoy the majestic beauty of the Kern River while learning about the plants and animals that inhabit its banks.

"I feel we can offer something very valuable and unique," he said. "There's a whole other side which is just savoring being there and learning about what you're seeing."

McGinnis also predicted that the permit will allow the company to run an additional 2,000 to 3,000 peole down the river -- a considerable increase for the company which typically runs between 5,000 and 7,000 riders annually.

With the new permit, "We can offer all these different types of trips and have a much bigger presence there and a bigger facility," he said.

McGinnis hopes eventually to construct a Whitewater Voyages Boating Center on acreage near Kernville where he can offer lodging, a camp for youngsters and other tourist services.

McGinnis already is gearing up to build an additional $50,000 facility in Kernville's Frandy Park.

"I've managed to grow the company at an amazing pace," he said. "I started on a shoe-string and I've been very fortunate. I look at all this and I'm just totally amazed."

McGinnis started the company in 1975. It is based in El Sobrante, a community in the San Francisco Bay area. It offers 14 different runs on seven rivers in California and Oregon, including the upper, lower and Forks of the Kern River, the American River, the Yuba River, the Merced River and the Kaweah River.

The company also offers half-day to five-day trips ranging from $62 to $615 per person, as well as weeklong whitew-water summer camps for kids, inflatable kayak and paddle cat courses and white-water schools for river guides. The company grosses between $1 and $2 million a year, a far cry from the early days when McGinnis launched the enterprise with two rafts and a $500 gift from his grandmother.

That first year, McGinnis traded river trips to pay for his first brochure, hired a river guide who had a van and quickly made a name for himself by booking exploratory trips and conquering rivers that were once labeled "unrunnable."

In 1975 McGinnis published his first book, "Whitewater Rafting." Now out of print, the book went through three printings and solidified his reputation in the world of white water.

McGinnis originally planned a career as a writer and earned a master's degree in literature before turning to his other love -- the river. He said he began developing a philosophy on the river when he was 18 years old and worked as a guide for the first outfitter in California.

It was a time, he recalled, when "the guides were cool and the clients were turkeys."

The machismo attitude so prevalent on the river left McGinnis feeling miserable. "It obscured even the beauty of the river," he said.

McGinnis summed up his customer service philosophy in a second book, "The Guide's Guide," published in 1981. The 130-page guide focuses on creating an atmosphere on rafting trips that is conducive to pleasure and personal growth.

"I see a river trip as more than just a physical journey," McGinnis said. "It's a movement of emotion from fear to confidence to joy. It's a movement from feeling a stranger in a group to feeling accepted and connected."

It is an emotional journey that McGinnis says he offers his riders. "Our philosophy is to provide the safest, most enjoyable trips possible and to nurture the human spirit," McGinnis said.

"Bill wants to do good for everybody," said friend and fellow whitewater outfitter Chuck Richards. "He wants to run soothing, pleasant trips, introspective trips."

McGinnis said he didn't expect to lose any time on the Kern this year due to high flows and predicted a good season.



© 1995 Bakersfield Californian

 

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