Our Story: the Origin of the Class VI, New River Gorge, West Virginia
1969… a gangly young man runs the New River in a homemade raft and goes on to co-found Mountain River Tours, the second commercial raft company in West Virginia. Paul Breuer started Mountain River Tours in 1973 with two college friends. "We based the company mission on friendly service to our guests with a knowledgeable, professional, and highly trained staff," said Breuer. "We wanted to show people the great thrill of whitewater rafting and the spectacular beauty of the New and Gauley rivers."
"We understood from the beginning that the guide was the entertainer and safety person and we wanted to give the guide the most control so, we adopted Bob Morgan's idea of rear-mounted oar frame and oars for the guide to use to control the raft from a very stable platform. Plus we wanted to give the guests participation by them being up front and paddling. The combination worked well for families and first-time rafters and the guide."
"Mountain River Tours ran the Gauley river, especially the Lower Gauley, the most of any outfitter in the beginning years of 1973 to 1990. We were located the closest to the Gauley River and when the New River was too high we would switch to the Lower Gauley, and at times even go to the Cherry River near Richwood."
1977… a group of guides at MRT organizes for better working conditions, and a year later The Boys spin off to form Class-VI River Runners on the very site where Adventures on the Gorge now sits.
By the late 1970s, Class VI founders Dave Arnold, Kevin Whelan and Doug and Jeff Proctor (AKA, the Boys) had honed their whitewater skills on some of America’s most challenging rivers. The four expert paddlers shared a special fondness for the rugged terrain and raging whitewater found in southern West Virginia. In 1977, the state of West Virginia completed the New River Gorge Bridge and Corridor 19, providing reliable access to the region. With the new highway in place and the growing public interest in whitewater, the four friends realized that their dream of starting a whitewater rafting company in West Virginia just might succeed.
One of the Class VI hallmarks, so to speak, was it's commitment to great food for its guests. You call their attention to this detail the very step toward Adventures on the Gorge. "When I first started guiding here in the 1970s," said Dave Arnold, "there was no 'food service,' per se. We fed our guests with a very simple system that didn't allow for a lot of creativity. Kevin Whelan had worked in a New York deli, and he convinced us to start doing high-quality food. The other outfitters thought we were crazy! They were right… sort of… it did become a whole new animal for us, but it also became our calling card, so to speak." With Jeff Proctor's wife, Janet, leading the charge, people knew that if they rafted with Class VI, they were going to have a fantastic river trip. And afterward, they weren't just going to be fed. They were going to be fed well.
With this philosophy, Class VI became one of the most successful rafting outfitters in the New River Gorge and Gauley River Canyon. Dave, Kevin, Doug and Jeff leased a piece of property on the rim of the New River Gorge where they placed a 1956 Safeway trailer to serve as office space, trip headquarters, gear room, store, and bar. They hired well-known, female paddler and Kevin’s soon-to-be wife, Joy Marr, as their first employee. Dave’s soon-to-be wife, Peggy, ran the office that first year. The Boys lived in tents on the property. Their first year, Class VI hosted 2,490 guests and the Boys even made a slight profit.
Class VI grew steadily through the 1980s. The company began acquiring land along the banks of the New and Gauley rivers for access points and overnight campsites. In 1985, the Boys replaced their Safeway trailer with a beautiful timber-frame reception center. They also launched the first Smokey’s Restaurant, named for their longtime friend and dutiful rafting bus driver, Dana “Smokey” Morton. By this point, Class VI had a 70-member staff and hosted 11,732 guests.
In 2007, the stories of Mountain River Tours and Class-VI came full circle, when the two merged with Rivermen to form Adventures on the Gorge, a new kind of resort. Located right smack dab on the rim of the New River Gorge, AOTG is the go-to source when you want to experience West Virginia outdoors.