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River is finally getting it right

The Rappahannock in late August usually looks more like a rock garden than a river.

Not this year. After a wet spring and early summer, the river is unusually high—generally good news for area outfitters who rent kayaks, canoes and float tubes. But it’s been too much of a good thing here, and at spots across Virginia.

“We’ve never seen the river with this much water so late in the season,” Bill Micks, co-owner of the Virginia Outdoor Center on Fall Hill Avenue in Fredericksburg, said this week. And with cool water temperatures to boot, “You couldn’t ask for better overall conditions,” said Micks, who founded the canoe, kayak and tube-rental business 41 years ago.

While it’s good now, “with all the high water in late April and May,” which made the Rappahannock too dangerous for many recreational users, “We’re only at about 50 percent of the business we normally do” by this point in the season, Micks said.

But that’s the nature of the business, he says.

“You go with the flow, so to speak.”

Since his season started in late April, “The amount of water in the river has been way above normal. That only left a handful of days” for paddlers and tubers to get out on the river.

The last two weeks or so have been ideal, he says. Those conditions usually last from May and June to early July. By August, the Rappahannock is typically reduced to a trickle, with the water “low, hot with no flow,” Micks said.

If present conditions continue, he’s hoping for another couple good weeks. Bookings typically slow after Labor Day; the season runs into early October.

“This is the first year I can remember that our multi-day trips” from upriver spots such as Eley’s Ford and Kelly’s Ford, “were not hindered by low water,” Micks said.

The Virginia Outdoor Center is one of two Fredericksburg-area outfitters. The other is Clore Brothers Outfitters at Motts Run, which also operates a riverside wedding venue at the Spotsylvania County location.

Micks says the shortened season makes it harder for him to cover insurance, equipment, wages and other expenses.

“You have to make a lot in a short period of time to pay bills for the winter.”

Other Virginia outfitters have had similar experiences this year.

Record-breaking rain in the southwestern part of the state hit tubing outfitters along the New River, according to a story in The Roanoke Times.

The newspaper said that one company, New River Junction, had rented tubes for only 18 days this season, with the river accessible for tubing just one day in July.

Cara Sottosanti with Shenandoah River Outfitters in Luray said it has been a challenging season, with a mix of flooding, rainy weekends and stretches of of cooler-than-normal temperatures.

The federal budget sequester and furloughs also took a toll, she said.

“We have a lot of government folks come out this way; we’ve definitely noticed the furloughs out of the D.C. area.”

One season a couple years ago, she said, “We lost seven of the first eight weekends” because of high water.

For now, things are good.

“It’s a warm day today, the first day to get into the high 80s in probably two weeks,” she said Tuesday. “So we were slammed.”

The Shenandoah is running at about 3 feet at a gauge along the family business’ 6-mile stretch of river, “which is perfect,” Sottosanti said.

Clore Brothers Outfitters, clore

Shenandoah River Outfitters,

Virginia Outdoor Center, play

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431