River business surges

By LINDA DROLLINGER
Posted 7/28/20

REGION — Busy signals and recorded messages advising of heavy call volume and longer-than-usual wait times greet callers hoping to make reservations for a 2020 river-trip getaway. They are then …

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River business surges

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REGION — Busy signals and recorded messages advising of heavy call volume and longer-than-usual wait times greet callers hoping to make reservations for a 2020 river-trip getaway. They are then urged to “make reservations online and check out frequently asked questions on our website.”

That’s the last thing these callers want to hear because, for most of them, this is their first river trip ever. They need the personal information, assurances and guidance that newcomers to any endeavor must have to feel confident in their first outing.

Driven by a reluctance to fly or use other public transportation during the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans are opting for short-distance vacations, staycations and day trips. The Catskills, Poconos and mid-Hudson Valley are experiencing an uptick in tourism, particularly of the outdoor variety, that has benefited the Upper Delaware region in general and, in particular, its campgrounds and watercraft liveries.

General manager Amy Salvia of Indian Head Canoes in Matamoras, PA says, “I think we have more first-timers this year than at any time in recent memory. For many of them, this is also their first travel experience since the pandemic shutdown began in March, so they’re a little more anxious than in years past. Their stays are typically longer than in years past, and they tend to ask questions that show their inexperience with the river. Some want to know if they have to paddle. Others ask if they have to paddle back to their access point.”

Rick Lander, owner of Lander’s River Trips in Narrowsburg, NY, agrees. “We’re seeing new clientele. We used to cater mostly to large groups, like scouts, fraternal organizations and destination events. But those clients are finding it difficult to get liability insurance. This year, we’re seeing more nuclear families than ever before. For many of them, this is a first experience with camping and river tripping, as well as a first visit to our area.”

Operating a river business always came with the burden of responsibility for doing all that is possible to ensure safety of clientele, staff, and local population; in the age of coronavirus, that task has assumed monumental proportions. To prevent local infection rates from rising, some businesses are refusing to serve clients from states experiencing case surge. In addition, all the businesses interviewed allow only registered guests to visit their facilities.

The New York State Health Department permits campgrounds to operate at full capacity, regardless of camper numbers. But each river trip is limited to a maximum of 150 participants, despite the fact that none of the liveries interviewed allows strangers to share watercrafts. The “one household to a craft” policy is observed by all.

Salvia said the pandemic has challenged liveries to reimagine their entire operation. “We have to be compliant with every phase of reopening in two states. Because the river forms the boundary between New York and Pennsylvania in the Upper Delaware region, we must adhere to guidelines from both states.”

Here’s a partial list of what that entails. Masks must be worn by transport workers and clients while in vehicles. They must also be worn when waiting to board vehicles and while in public spaces, like campground and livery stores, communal toilet and shower facilities, and at river access sites. But they are not required and are not recommended for use while in watercraft. Even a strong, experienced swimmer can easily drown if wearing a mask when a watercraft overturns.

All shared property must be disinfected between uses. Both Indian Head Canoes and Lander’s River Trips use the same disinfectant protocol recommended and used by hospitals: fogging. Fogging consists of spraying a chemical solution and steam on a surface already cleaned with an antibacterial cleanser. Among the property, items cleaned by fogging are transport vehicles, rafts, canoes, kayaks, paddles, toilets and shower stalls. The most frequently used chemical solutions are chlorine-based. Lander’s River Trips general manager Karen Rasmussen says, “After fogging, the disinfected property smells like a clean swimming pool.”

Salvia says, “Before the pandemic, lifejackets were cleaned between uses in an enzyme bath.” Now they are being fogged.

There is continued debate in some quarters over whether or not campgrounds and liveries, which are bringing together large numbers of people from various locations, should continue to operate.

Salvia says that there are many benefits and points out that the liveries are employing many who would otherwise be reliant on unemployment insurance and/or federal pandemic incentive relief and introducing many others to the joys of healthy outdoor life.

Lander says, “Until this year, we consistently relied on repeat business. Many of our clients made a tradition of the annual river trip, often as a reunion or commemoration of a special event or anniversary.” With any luck, this year’s first-timers may begin their own river-trip tradition, commemorating for posterity the year COVID-19 held the world in its grip.

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