By Alicia Dziak

According to the calendar, spring has arrived, and adventure seekers can move from the slopes to the fast-paced action of whitewater rafting on the Cattaraugus Creek. Western New Yorkers are lucky to have Zoar Valley in their backyards, providing countless thrills and chills this time of year.

“Our 32nd rafting season in Zoar Valley opened last weekend and will go until we run out of water, usually late May or early June,” said Jim Redline of Zoar Valley Canoe and Rafting Company (ZVC).

People of all ages, abilities and experience can take part in rafting.

“Over the years, we have taken anyone from age 6 (on the intro section) on up,” Redline said. “Physically, you don’t need to be a marathon runner or the like to participate, but it is a somewhat strenuous activity, which will require around three hours of paddling and, yes, everyone needs to paddle. It is a team-building and participation activity. You don’t need to know how to swim, as the life jacket will keep your head well above water if by chance you should go overboard! It does help, however, that you not be afraid of the water.”

“Not being able to swim tends to be a very large concern for people,” said Christine Baer of Catt Rafting Adventures.  “But we supply Coast Guard-approved life jackets with plenty of buoyancy.  In our safety talk before we hit the water, we cover what an individual should do if they come out of a raft. In almost every instance if someone comes out of a raft, they are very close to the raft and are pulled into the raft immediately. Strength is really not a factor. If an individual works with the water, the raft team can get anywhere on the water. Listening and observing is the most important requirement. Listen to the instructions of the guide and watch for obstruction in the water — rocks, trees, etc.”

Whitewater rafting involves paddling through various degrees of whitewater that are categorized by class. Class 1 rapids are the smallest waves with few obstructions, and as the classifications goes up, the waves get larger and the navigation through them more difficult. In Zoar Valley, the rapids go up to Class 4.

ZVC runs two different trips down the creek.

“The intro to whitewater rafting section is 6 miles long with great scenery and sports Class 1 and 2 rapids suitable for all ages,” Redline explained.  “The main Zoar section is 9 miles long with numerous Class 1-3 rapids and maybe a couple 4s if the water is running high.”

“Most groups want the main gorge, which is where the main rapids are,” Baer said. “But we do offer the upper gorge, which is moving water with a few rapids.”

Showing up prepared is also a factor in a positive rafting experience. Redline offers suggestions of gear for those planning a trip.

“We encourage our guests to bring along a towel, synthetic sweater, rain jacket, hat, Croakies for your glasses, and camera. Also, wearing something thin and tight like Spandex, Lycra, pantyhose, etc. under the wetsuit can aid in comfort. Remember, on the river, cotton in taboo!”  he said.

While whitewater rafting may not be for everyone, it’s a unique and exciting activity that is sure to be an unforgettable journey through some of the area’s most amazing scenery.

And if someone is nervous about going?

“I just tell them that in over 30 years of doing this, we have taken thousands of scouts — both boy and girl — youth groups and seniors as well (down the river),” Redline said. “I never try and talk someone into doing it, but if they do go, they always cry for more.”

“We are very safety oriented,” assured Baer. “We are all NYS licensed guides who practice safety techniques all year long. We will cover safety before we leave our facility, before we hit the water and talk about safety factors as we go down the river. To be very honest, most people are nervous because of the ‘unknown.’ Trust your guide, trust your team and work as a team. Usually within 30-45 minutes of working as a group, the nervous concern dissipates. Again, the biggest concern people have is coming out of the raft. If this happens, the guide and other rafts are right there to provide assistance.”

ZVC offers scheduled weekend trips (two trips daily on Saturdays and Sundays), as well as weekday trips that can be scheduled for groups of 15 or more. For more information, visit www.zoarvalleyrafting.com or email raftzvc@yahoo.com.

Catt Rafting Adventures also offers scheduled trips on weekends, departing mid-late morning, and weekday trips that can be reserved for private groups. For more information, visit www.cattraftingadventures.com or email info@cattraftingadventures.com.

Rafting is a great way to meet new people, bond with those you already know, take in the beauty of Zoar Valley and have a blast. The season is short, so take advantage while you can.