BY CRYSTAL SCHELLE
KNOXVILLE, Md. – Since 1972, River and Trail Outfitters has maintained a place where families can get on the water for some good, old-fashioned clean fun.
John Gonano, general manager, came into the business by marriage 15 years ago. His wife, Natasha Baihly, is the daughter of owners Lee and Eunsook “Grace” Baihly. Today, the family still runs the business and keeps its focus on family as well as safety.
“Our mission statement is that we want people to have memories to last a lifetime,” Gonano said. “We want people to remember their time with us, and say ‘Remember when ….’ At the end of the day, that’s our ultimate goal.”
Annually, River and Trail Outfitters welcome about 25,000 visitors, which includes the campgrounds as well as their other sports.
When it comes to people having a good time, Gonano said there are several principles that go into making sure their time with River and Trail Outfitters.
The first principle is safety because, he said, “because you don’t have any fun if it’s not safe.”
Also, caring for the environment; quality customer service; and to always be respectful to others.
“We hope that when people come out with any of us have a good time and want to come back every year,” he said.
The mainstay of River & Trail Outfitters is the company’s water adventures. Visitors have the option for trips that vary in not only the vessel the person is riding in, but at which body of water.
White water rafting finds those who want an adrenaline rush to go on rapids on the Potomac and Shenandoah and rivers; North Branch Dam Release in Bloomington, Md.; and Savage River Dam Release, also in Bloomington.
“I would recommend that our whitewater rafting is great for novices,” Gonano said. “You have a trained guide in every raft. Rafts are more stable than other kinds of boats. In many ways, that’s the best trip for beginners.”
Other water activities for those who want to do a little paddling including the option of canoe or kayak rentals. Those looking for a guided tour can do that we well.
Those who want a little bit more added to their experience, River and Trail offers food and paddle tours – such as Boat & Brew Tours; Water to Wine Tours; Foodie Float Tours and Shuttle/Land Tours.
For the water lover who is looking for something on the more relaxing side, there is tubing. Tours include the mellow Shenandoah River; the more beginner whitewater tubing on Antietam Creek as well as the whitewater of the Potomac River for strong swimmers.
Those who don’t have much experience on the water will find plenty of things geared toward them. Gonano said a majority of their guests are newbies or people who return every year. That means with River and Trail’s trained staff everyone can have fun.
Gonano said his personal favorite trip is for the person who is a little more energetic is the Duckie, which is an inflatable kayak. Visitors paddle on the rapids with a guide and the adventure is the same price and trip times are the same as the rafting.
“But it’s a little more exciting,” he said. “It’s especially a little better when the water is a little lower, which might not be as exciting in the raft. And novices can do it, as long as you’re OK there’s going to be a 50/50 chance you’ll be dumped (in the water).”
Gonano said the service guests enjoy the most is the shuttle bus. Staff makes sure all the gear is inspected and packed and ready to go. And the guests are dropped off at the site, not having to worry about where to park and if there is enough parking.
Their 47-year track record always has the customer needs first, especially when it comes to safety.
“We are constantly monitoring the water levels, and we’ve already figured out the best routes,” he said. “We’re always looking for better ways to do things.”
Last year, he said, was an example of when an experienced outfitter was the best choice for people looking to do whitewater rafting and other water activities because of the amount of rain seen. Rail and Trail Outfitters were able to constantly monitor the levels and reevaluating the weather.
“There’s a lot of things we do that avoid problems,” he said, which includes taking the correct precautions to prevent injuries and drownings.
River and Trail Outfitters rafting season is from April through November for certain trips. The tubing season is Memorial Day through September. Kayak and canoe rental season begins in late May and wraps up in October. River and Trail Outfitters is open seven days a week.
But water sports isn’t the only aspect of River and Trail Outfitters, Gonano said they also offer biking, hiking and ziplining.
And those looking to make it an entire weekend or longer can rental cabins or a tent or RV campsite to make it an outdoor vacation.
“The campground has a lot more visitors than the outfitters business, just because of the nature of the season. It’s also a longer season,” he said.
Although River and Trail Outfitters focuses on families, Gonano said they also do group adventures for businesses, churches or other organizations. And the bus shuttles can be rented out for other events, including weddings, and they also have a portable climbing wall that can also be rented for events and parties.
River and Trail Outfitters
1332, 604 Valley Rd, Knoxville, Md.
Open seven days a week