How do you value the natural world? This value can range from that in your immediate surroundings to a continent away. Value is often simplified to refer to something concrete that an individual directly and actively uses. However, value is not limited to something concrete and that which we directly utilize. For example, hikers and birdwatchers have a direct use of forests and mountains for climbing and birdwatching. However, elderly individuals can also value those same forests and mountains even though heath limitations may prevent them from directly using them for outdoor recreational opportunities. Hikers, birdwatchers, and elderly individuals can all value the Amazon rainforest despite a reality that all may never have the opportunity to travel there. Our natural world provides a host of unique services, of which all people are beneficiaries. Consider a wetland. What might be regarded as a mosquito-infested wasteland provides an important array of services. They provide habitat for fish and wildlife, purify water, recharge groundwater, stabilize shorelines and streambanks, offer outdoor recreational opportunities, and provide flood and stormwater control.
As I was entering my junior year of high school, my older sister was entering her junior year of college. While enrolled at West Virginia University, she befriended native West Virginians that frequently engaged in outdoor recreational opportunities. These friendships were instrumental in providing further exposure to the natural environment. After a whitewater rafting excursion with friends, she discussed with my younger sister and I taking a similar trip as a family to celebrate our parent’s 22nd wedding anniversary. We also invited her godparents. This trip came about after I dissuaded her out of taking them skydiving.
The Youghiogheny River, colloquially known as the “Yough,” originates in northern West Virginia and flows northward through Maryland and Pennsylvania and empties into the Monongahela River just outside Pittsburgh.
We booked our rafting trip on the Lower Yough with White Water Adventurers, LLC for the last day in July of 2008. Their most popular rafting trip, the Lower Yough runs for 7.5 miles and is rated Class III and IV. After registration and life vest and helmet fitting, we were bused to the riverside where trip leader Scary Jerry (as he introduced himself) gave his pep and safety speech. Accompanied by his staff, we carried our rafts down the streambank and began our journey beneath Ohiopyle Falls, the centerpiece of Pennsylvania’s Ohiopyle State Park. The entire party was about 100 people divided into groups of four and six-person rafts while the guides paddled alongside in kayaks. Demographically, it ranged from preteens to people in their 60s. My sisters and I paddled with an Ohioan man and his two sons while my parents and sister’s godparents paddled together in another raft.
Whitewater rafting is an exhilarating experience that affords a constant adrenaline rush! Rafters have to sit on the edge of the raft in order to paddle. Throughout the trip, the guides shouted directions as we approached particular rapids, although it was difficult to hear them over the sound of the raging water and in our preoccupation with paddling. Paddling is a challenging feat in whitewater. Many times we were unable to follow the guides’ specific instructions, for we weren’t very skilled at maneuvering the raft. Ideally, we were to run rapids one raft at a time with an average of 2 rafts distance between rafts. Due to widespread rafting inexperience, collectively as a party we unintentionally didn’t abide by this mandate.
Our boat was the second to run “railroad” rapid. Here, Scary Jerry’s prediction about swimming came true. Our raft folded slightly like a sandwich. Glen was catapulted into the river with the grace of a dolphin while my older sister, I, and Glen’s one son tumbled over the side. It was an intimidating ordeal.
We did as instructed at the safety meeting and floated on our backs until we were picked up. My sister’s godmother later went for a dip. We had to shout to the guide to help her back in the raft, as the young guy was hesitant to touch her backside and push her in headfirst. It is difficult to help someone back into a raft without you joining them in their predicament. Throughout the entire journey, we saw fellow rafters go swimming as well. Halfway through the trip, the entire party enjoyed a picnic lunch (included with the trip) that consisted of deli sandwiches, cookies, water, and fruit on a large rock slab that conveniently sat in clearing in the river gorge. After our trip, we intended to ride the natural water slides of Ohiopyle State Park’s Meadow Run. However, our parents’ and my sister’s godparents’ felt their adrenaline rush had maxed out for the day. We hope to ride them someday! Check them out in the YouTube video!
There is an unfortunate tendency among some people to value that which they directly use and that which is most visible. What is not directly used and overt is relegated to the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. Whitewater rafting, along with other outdoor recreation, affords people opportunities to engage in a direct use of nature and is a type of ecotourism. The rafting business also supports the local economy and exemplifies the importance and benefits of environmental conservation, pollution control, and water quality. Ecotourism is not limited to international and faraway domestic tourists. It applies to everyone far and near. I hope the whitewater rafting trip fosters a greater respect and appreciation for nature and environmental conservation among the participants.
~by Angelo Teachout
photo credit of featured image: https://pixabay.com/en/white-water-rapids-river-wild-479828/ (License)