San Diego teen Jacob Pettit has had great adventures on family vacations. At age 18, he has been scuba diving, skiing, snowboarding and hiking. Surfing is a frequent activity on the San Diego beaches he calls home. Jacob has hiked to see volcanos, zip-lined and caught his dinner while deep sea fishing. And, he has experienced in locations that range from the Island of Kaui noted for lush gardens, waterfalls and pristine beaches to skiing and snowboarding in California’s Mammoth Mountain
And yet, one of Jacob’s all-time favorite vacation was in West Virginia. In September 2020, the entire Pettit family flew across the country to experience whitewater rafting on the Upper Gauley River. There the entire family spent the day rafting on the Class V rapids, also described as the Beast of the East,
Doug, his wife, Laurie, daughters Katie, 24, and Maggie,22, all made the trip to experience world class white water rafting at the Upper Gauley River in Sept. 2020. Those two days vacationing in West Virginia is an experience they will always cherish.
A West Virginia native from Hancock County, Doug grew up in New Cumberland, but never experienced whitewater rafting until he attended Bethany College and a whitewater rafting trip was part of the College’s orientation. After graduating from Bethany and Washington & Lee University School of Law, Doug accepted a position at a law firm in San Diego. Twelve years ago, the PettitKohn Law Firm was founded and the firm now has offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tuscon.
You can take the boy out of West Virginia, but apparently you can’t take the West Virginia out of the boy because Doug did the Upper Gauley twice while at Bethany and frequently combined whitewater rafting and hiking vacations with trips home to see his family sometimes taking his sister, Shannon Sayre, and her children with him.
The Pettit family is not alone in its assessment of the whitewater rafting experience in West Virginia. Thousands of people now travel to the Mountain State each year to ride some of the best whitewater rapids in the world. That wasn’t always the case. Whitewater rafting was a hidden gem and didn’t begin to take off until 1968 when a pioneer of the industry in West Virginia, Jon Dragon, founded Wildwater Experience. In 1971, other companies began to show up and today tourists travel to West Virginia to enjoy rafting that runs the gamut from the “mild to wild.” Whitewater rafting can now be enjoyed on the New, Gauley, Cheat, Shenandoah, Big Sandy Creek, Tygart, Potomac, Meadow Bluestone and Greenbrier River.
Rafters can experience the Class V rapids at the Upper Gauley for only 22 days in September. That’s when the Summersville Dam is opened to allow for water control and water storage. For that short window the Upper Gauley is home to the highest density of whitewater rivers in the country. The “Gauley Fest” is celebrated the third weekend of September when festivities and rafters reach an all-time high in the area.
What began as a small industry over 50 years ago has blossomed into a major economic engine in West Virginia. The most recent statistics from the WV Dept. of Natural Resources show $30.1 million in output from the rafting industry and the ancillary businesses with $8.5 million in employee compensation.
Today in addition to whitewater rafting tourists can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities from horseback riding, to zip lining with lodging facilities ranging from camping to cabins. The Pettit’s selected Adventures on the Gorge for their West Virginia trip which has a location above the Gorge where restaurants, cabins and campsites are available.
“ We stayed in one their cabins and also went mountain bike riding at Arrowhead Bike Farm,” said Doug.
How would he rate the vacation experience in his home state? He agrees with son, Jacob.
“It was a 10!” (And, well worth the trip!)
West Virginia has a lot to be proud of in their tourism industry.