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Raft of opportunity awaits on Spokane River

The momentum building around the Spokane River Gorge has attracted two companies that plan to run commercial whitewater rafting trips on the river, starting next month.

The companies – River City River Runners and Pangaea Expeditions – join Wiley E. Waters, a company that has been running the river commercially for years.

They’re offering the trips at a time when a master plan has just been developed to promote recreational opportunities in the 400-acre river gorge that runs through downtown Spokane. Both chambers of the state Legislature have included money in their budgets for a whitewater kayaking park on the Spokane River. And a pedestrian bridge over the river recently was completed just west of downtown, immediately attracting bikers, hikers and joggers.

“There’s an awful lot of the focus on the gorge park. There’s been a tremendous amount of focus on the river,” said Paul Delaney, a partner in River City River Runners. “We hope to get our foot in the door and be among the people who can work this thing out.”

All three companies will offer a whitewater run from the Maple Street Bridge to Plese Flats in Riverside State Park, which includes the rapids at the Bowl and Pitcher and Devil’s Toenail. Pangaea and Wiley also will offer a flatter-water float from Harvard Road to Plante’s Ferry Park in Spokane Valley. River City will offer a shorter whitewater run from the T.J. Meenach Bridge to Plese Flats.

Delaney and his partners have been running the Spokane River for years and have kicked around the idea of starting a business for the past four or five years, he said. Because most of the partners work full-time jobs, they will offer late-afternoon weekday trips and longer weekend trips, Delaney said. The per-person rate for their shorter trip is $45, which drops to $35 for groups of 12 or more. Their longer trip will cost $60 per person for eight people and $45 for 12 or more.

West Valley school teacher Kyle Brock owns Wiley E. Waters, which also offers rafting trips on the Spokane for the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department as part of its summer program. His company focuses primarily on running the Clark Fork River in Montana, but he said he runs about 10 commercial trips down the Spokane each season. He charges a flat rate of $25 per person.

“It’s a fun trip for the beginning stages of rafting,” Brock said. “It’s a good opportunity for people to get an introduction to whitewater rafting.”

Pangaea Expeditions has been around since 1989, but recently was purchased by David Lawrence, who used to work for Wiley E. Waters. The company is based in Montana and has been running the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers for years. Lawrence decided to add day trips on the Spokane to the list. Pangaea plans to charge $35 per person, and $25 for children under age 14, Lawrence said.

In an ironic twist, the two new companies are entering the market following one of the lowest snowfall years on record. All the rafters acknowledge that the Spokane River has a short trip window, stretching approximately from the beginning of May to mid-June. The low snowpack may make that even shorter this year, they say.

Still, Lawrence said he thinks there will be plenty of business for everyone.

“I think for the three of us, there’s as much (business) as we want,” he said, adding he’s happy to see the Spokane River getting the attention it deserves.

“I’m so glad to see Spokane finally getting behind its river. It has one of the best class III rapids in the entire state, and that’s the Bowl and Pitcher. I’m glad to see the city finally getting its energy behind the river.”