Class VI-Mountain River: History & Heritage Since 1978
The Origins of White Water Paddling in the USSeveral events in the late 1960s and early 1970’s introduced the American public to the fledgling sports of whitewater rafting and kayaking. First, Senator Bobby Kennedy took a highly publicized raft trip on the Colorado River, through Grand Canyon National Park. Then in 1972, kayaking debuted as an Olympic sport in Munich, Germany and the Hollywood film, Deliverance showed dramatic footage of whitewater canoeing in the southeastern United States. The same year, Sports Illustrated strayed from its coverage of mainstream sports to publish an article on kayaker, Walt Blackadar’s successful first run of the extreme Turn Back Canyon. “Whitewater” was becoming a household word.
Paul Breuer started Mountain River Tours in 1973 with two college friends. He and his wife Jennifer ran the company up until 2009, when it merged with Class VI to become Class VI- Mountain River.
"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."
In 1978, four MRT guides split from Breuer's company to form Class VI River Runners...
The Boys Have A VisionBy 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.
In 1978, Class VI became one of the early 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—The First of Many Firsts
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 founders replaced the 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 1989, Class VI hosted Vice President Dan Quayle and his family. Two years later when Governor Jerry Brown was running for President, he and his group ran the New River. Today, a photo hangs on property in Chetty’s Pub with Dan Quayle on the right and Governor Brown on the left, per the Governor’s request.
Growing Up to Be White Water Rafting and Regional Outdoor Industry Leaders
Class VI wasn't only leading in the rafting side of the business. In 1982, Janet Proctor, wife of co-founder Jeff, took over food service at Class VI River Runners. Lucky for Class VI—over a 13 year career as head chef and manager there, Janet created signature dishes, wrote a cookbook, and was instrumental in creating Smokey's Charcoal Grill, the prelude to Smokey's on the Gorge. Janet's vision and culinary and management skills were key in building Class VI's reputation as the best food service in southwestern West Virginia and in the rafting industry, as Bon Appetit and Gourmet Magazine attested to in their coverage of Class VI.
Long a leader in river safety and environmental conservation, in 1985, Class VI made the commitment to equip all raft trips with FM radios for emergency communication. Starting in 1986, the company began hosting the area’s first river rescue clinics. Class VI’s highly trained guide staff taught river rescue to the U.S. Park Service and the U.S. Military Special Forces. Class VI was instrumental with the successful campaign to preserve the Gauley River into a National Recreation Area and has participated in numerous river cleanups, highway adoption programs and efforts to limit impact at river access points.
Rafting the River: Safety. Conservation. Advocacy.
In 1991, Class VI became one of the smallest companies to ever win the prestigious Ernst and Young, Merrill Lynch and Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Class VI continued its tradition of exceptional quality and steady growth in the 1990s with the construction of the Canyon Doors campsite on the Gauley River and the luxurious bathhouse at Class VI headquarters. In 1999, Class VI built a new version of Smokey’s, called Smokey’s on the Gorge, featuring gourmet cuisine and spectacular views of the New River Gorge canyon. That year Class VI hosted 24,190 guests.
Outdoor Industry Awards & Expansion
Praise in the PressClass VI’s distinguished history has received media praise on numerous occasions. Articles about Class VI have appeared in "US News and World Report", "Bon Appetit", "Travel Holiday", "National Geographic Adventure", "Outside", "Entrepreneur" and other magazines.
White Water Rafting Industry InnovationsClass VI kicked off the new millennium by helping to host the World Rafting Championships in 2001. The same year, Avon developed the Avon Extreme raft exclusively for Class VI, making Class VI’s stock of rafts and rubber duckies the largest and most advanced Avon fleet in the world. In keeping with Class VI’s pioneering spirit, the company opened built eight beautiful cabins called “Cabins on the Gorge”, begun offering rafting footage on DVD and added the new Explorer T4’s to the fleet.
Recognizing that the whitewater industry must evolve from a one-day activity to a full service resort destination that offers our guests many outdoor recreational options, it became clear Class VI needed to continue to expand into an outdoor recreation resort that emphasizes diverse outdoor recreation activities, first-class amenities and lodging options.
In 2008, a group of investors purchased and merged Class VI River Runners and the Boys' original employer, Mountain River Tours and the Rivermen together as part of the Adventures on the Gorge family. A couple years later, Songer Whitewater also joined this venerable clan. Guests of all four companies saw (and will continue to see) exciting changes over the next few years. Adventures on the Gorge is committed to exceptional guest services, quality recreation activities and the best whitewater rafting on the East Coast. New products and services were added (or expanded) including paintball, hiking trails, ropes course, lodging, canopy tour, an amazing swimming pool on the rim of the Gorge and dining.
Dave, Doug and Jeff continue to contribute their enthusiasm and dedication on a daily basis to the success of Class VI-MR.