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Pigeon River rafting companies back open with new safety guidelines

The pandemic delayed the usual white water rafting schedule, but Pigeon River companies are hopeful to get back on track while maintaining safety guidelines.

HARTFORD, Tenn. — White water rafting is back in business on the Pigeon River, but, there are new safety and health precautions in place.

After a spring of uncertainty, most rafting companies started welcoming families back on board earlier in the week, a slight change to their original schedule, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Nantahala Outdoor Center in Hartford didn't expect to be making a splash this soon, according to General Manager Steven Foy.

"It was hard to predict early on what the year would look like for us," Foy said. "Our primary season is from Memorial Day to Labor Day, so we felt pretty confident early on that we might be able to figure something out for later in the summer. We felt very fortunate that we found a solution early on."

But even though they're paddling forward, there's some safety precautions they're taking first.

RELATED: Tennessee state parks reopen for daytime use under new guidelines

"It really affected the way that we interact with our guests," Foy explained. "We're having to be extremely diligent about the way that we interact."

The staff is cleaning all equipment and the buses as soon as a group gets back, there's a reduced capacity throughout the area, staff are wearing masks on land and temperatures of staff and customers are checked before each trip.

"The key is that we're trying to communicate well in advance before guests show up," Foy said customers are made aware of precautions before, during and after reserving their spot.

Families from all over are escaping to the mountains after months of closures. NOC hopes that means a positive trend for business even without visits from summer camp groups.

RELATED: More people are rafting the Pigeon River than in years past

"So we're gonna see more families choosing to do the same activities, but together, whereas they would have gone with their church group or their scout group," Foy nodded.

The staff is aiming for a summer with plenty of splashes, and has its sights set on catching up with usual visitation numbers as more starts to open.

"What I really hope is that folks start to see something like a raft trip as an opportunity for their family to recreate together," Foy added.