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Pennsylvania businesses eager for kickoff to whitewater rafting season

White Water Rafting
Jim Cole
/
AP
Norm Rehn navigates the white water of the Warner River in Warner, N.H., Sunday, April 18, 2010.

The Lehigh River draws people from all over the region for whitewater season, which kicks off for some in April.

Now that COVID-19 case numbers are down, businesses in the Poconos say they’re bracing for a full return of visitors.

Jerry McAward owns a river rafting outfit on the Lehigh in Jim Thorpe. He says business dipped during the first year of the pandemic.

“In 2020 we were sort of hobbled by being as safe as we could be with half-filled buses, half-filled trips,” said McAward, owner of Jim Thorpe River Adventures.

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But as people faced a slew of COVID restrictions, McAward says they turned to the outdoors for recreation, making business eventually pick up. The outlook for this season, he says, is even better.

“Our reservations are ahead of any other year. If the pandemic is easing into our rearview mirror, people are optimistic,” said McAward.

As the pandemic continues to fluctuate, McAward says he hopes rafting newcomers will find solace on the Lehigh’s rapids. He says he saw large numbers of people on the river last season.

“As people discovered the outdoors there were hundreds of thousands of people on multiple sections of the Lehigh [River] from White Haven down through the Lehigh Valley,” said McAward.

McAward says he’ll keep a few pandemic-related operational changes in place, like frequent cleaning of kayaks, canoes and rafts. He’s also maintaining small group trips to the river.

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