FAYETTE COUNTY, WV (WOWK) – The New River Gorge Bridge officially opened on October 22, 1977 to a lot of fanfare and celebration.
“They invited all of West Virginia to come and see this new amazing bridge and it’s amazing balance between engineering, architecture, and balance with nature,” said Brian Campbell, Co-founder of Adventures on the Gorge and Chief Marketing Officer.
Not only did the New River Gorge become an instant icon, it opened up travel to both sides of the river breathing new life to the fledgling whitewater rafting industry.
“As people started to come here to run the river for recreation, we were affectionately referred to as those crazy river runners,” exclaimed Campbell.
Why? Because the New River was known for its unforgiving rapids and unpredictable nature. But those original river runners weren’t easily deterred.
“They created some rafts, homemade rafts, out of big large truck inner tubes, they lashed them together, created a wooden frame, an oar frame and then took off running the New River Gorge,” Campbell said.
In the early 80’s, Brian’s family opened an outfitting called named The Rivermen, long before smartphones and hot tubs.
“Our first campground was out at Concha which overlooks Thurmond,” added Campbell. “We didn’t have running water, we had a well and we took showers underneath a hose.”
Brian is Co-founder of Adventures on the Gorge, which is a collection of four outfitters that merged to create an adventure destination resort.
“When we were all just separate companies, there were 18 of us at the heyday of the rafting industry,” said Campbell. “We were just rafting companies with campgrounds and just a few amenities. And because there were so many of us, none of us were making any money.”
But as more people flocked to events like Bridge Day, business started to boom.
“That hardcore rafting experience starting to transition into more of camping resorts, and we transitioned from a camping resort into a real world-class destination resort,” Campbell exclaimed. “Today, we have 132 cabins.”
And, they have no plans to slow down and are getting ready for a big expansion to open up a whole new part of the resort that has been undeveloped.
Brian says the most important change from the early days, the New River Gorge now has National Park status. Which means it will be protected for future generations can continue to enjoy its beauty and experience their own adventures.
I’m Clay Abney, remember to get outside and make adventure part of your next destination.