raftingBy Jeff Martin

Over at Catt Rafting Adventures in Gowanda, the persistent spring rains of late have created ideal outdoor circumstances for the three friends who once wanted nothing more than to offer premiere outdoor adventures.

Christine Baer, co-owner along with David Schall, spent last weekend hosting a whitewater rafting trip with the University of Buffalo’s Outdoor Adventure Club. Rising and falling in freezing temperatures, the group had the time of their lives. Rapids along the Cattaraugus Creek were at their prime, measuring near Class V.

But such trips are the norm for Baer, who three years ago helped start the company with Schall and Oren Barris.

“It was a dream of ours to do it,” Baer said. “A lot of rafting companies have started here and there are ones that continue to thrive, but I think we offer something special here.”

Trips include several rafting trips down the Cattaraugus Creek during the spring, summer and fall months, and hiking trips during the off-season. In addition, the group offers special trips. In June, participants will travel to the Madawaska River, which is part of the Palmer Rapids in Ontario.

To compensate for low water levels, Catt Rafting offers duckies, or inflatable kayaks, and beetle bugs, or smaller version of a catamaran. Fishing trips are also offered along the creek.

“We’re weather-dependent here,” Baer said. “We really have to adjust what we offer based on what’s happening in the gorge.”

For those who know nothing about rafting, lessons are also offered, Baer said. Licensed guides are part of the team, some of whom have logged thousands of hours in the field.

Russ Crispell, director of Outdoor Pursuits at the University of Buffalo, has participated in several adventures. Accompanied by his students, Crispell said he trusts numerous rafting outfits but Catt has proven to be something special.

“The guides and staff have a lot of experience,” Crispell said following a recent excursion down the creek.

With what Baer describes as “an armada” of flotation devices, Catt Rafting prepares the adventurer thoroughly. Wet suits, helmets, PFDs, paddles and booties are supplied, as is a prepared meal halfway through the journey and food at its conclusion.

Justin Lex, a junior at the University of Buffalo, coordinated the recent trip for UB students. Like many Buffalo residents, he had no idea that the Zoar Valley area even existed — much less whitewater rafting.

“It was crazy, just crazy,” he said following the trip. “This has got to be some of the best whitewater rafting in the state.”

Both Lex and Crispell are part of a growing number of people who believe that young adults, ensnared by technology, are finally becoming more and more interested in spending time outdoors. When technology exploded in the ‘90s, it seemed the youth traded the outdoors for sitting in chairs playing video games and staring at computer screens.

“I think young adults are starting to become more active again,” Crispell said. “Look at these kids. They are generally interested, and places like Catt Rafting get them interested even more.”

Unlike many rafting company outfits, Catt offers an ideal guest ratio (1:4). Trips typically have no more than 4 to 6 guests per raft, Baer said.

“It’s safer and more educational that way,” she said.

Floating down the creek, rafters can expect to see eagles and several waterfalls. Already popular with hikers throughout the year, rafting the creek gives people a different perspective of the gorge itself — and the water that has formed it.

For more information about trips and prices, visit www.cattraftingadventures.com or call 866-1461.

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