At peace on the Shenandoah River

By Jared Christensen
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

Tubing on the Shenandoah River has become a popular way to relax, find perspective and enjoy the vastness of the Massanutten Mountain range and the George Washington National Forest.

“People come from all over the world to go down the river because it is so peaceful,” said Nancy Goebel, part owner of Shenandoah River Outfitters.

Wildlife is prolific along the banks, especially at the point where Bull Falls meets the Shenandoah.

“You always see blue herons, turtles lying on rocks basking in the sun and muskrats trickling through the forest,” said Abbie Ricketts, a 40-year native of the Shenandoah.

Floating down the Shenandoah is a great way to forget the add-ons of life for five hours and enjoy the presence of the landscape that surrounds the area.

“I love the natural world and calm of the water,” said Ricketts. “I feel like when I’m on the river and the trees line the bank, it feels like I am in my own world.”

Source: Shenandoah University.

Source: Shenandoah University.

What is unique about river tubing on the Shenandoah is having to work with the river to get to the destination. Water levels play a huge role in navigating the sections of the Shenandoah.

“The higher the water levels the rougher it can be out there,” said Chris Veitnthal, manager of Front Royal Canoe. “For low water levels you must be aware of your route, so you don’t get stuck.”

The most popular time of year for tubing is in the summer between July and August, but going during the fall or winter when the leaves no longer block sight lines can bring some of the most beautiful views.

“Fall is gorgeous,” said Carl Goetz, a 50-year native of the Shenandoah. “The reflection of the leaves on the river is breathtaking. I can see the mountain ranges in the winter. There is a clarity to the air and sky you don’t get during the summertime.”

There is a joy that takes over the body when floating down the Shenandoah. It is rare these days to enjoy time with friends and family without distraction.

“Rivers are Zen-like,” said Goetz.  “You work with the river, you can’t fight it. You have to release yourself. The end of the river isn’t a time it’s a place.”

People from different cultures find peace when they come to the Shenandoah River for water recreation. In a world where there are so many ways to stay connected with others, being on the Shenandoah allows people to connect with themselves.

“I’m amazed that it doesn’t matter what walk of life or age bracket, people fall in love with being on the river,” said Nora Slick, an employee of River and Trail Outfitters. “I’ve never been out on the river and people don’t get immersed in the feeling, you get a sense of being reconnected with the world.”

Although river tubing can sound dangerous, it is considered to be a family activity for the majority of the year. Many of the residents that live in the Shenandoah Valley have also raised their kids on the river.

“I’ve passed the love of the river down to my kids and grandchildren,” Ricketts said. “It is something to share with everyone so they can develop a better appreciation of the natural world.”

The Shenandoah River is a huge component of the ecosystem for many of the people who live in the Shenandoah Valley. The cleanliness of the water and wildlife that surround the river are at the center of what makes the Shenandoah River such an amazing place to visit.

“Getting people aware of what a river is to our ecosystem is important,” Goetz said. “Everything flows down stream and that is important to understand, because at some point everyone lives down stream.”

Many outfitters in the Shenandoah Valley are experienced and trained to educate first time tubers as they go down the river for their first time.

Tubers have the choice of heading down the river in the morning, afternoon or at sunset. Day trips are the most popular choice for those traveling in a large group, and the 3-mile and 7-mile trips are attractive choices among beginners.

The main objective of the locals and outfitters who work and live on the river is to make the trips down the river as stress free as possible for those who are visiting while ensuring everyone’s safety.

“We won’t put people on the river if they’re not comfortable,” Goebel said. “We make sure people make the decision for themselves. I’ve been here 40 years and we have had no incidents.”

Many of the outfitters opened for the water recreation season on April 1.

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