By Sara Belsole
COLUMBUS, GA - In 15 days, Columbus will be ready to raft. But one of the nation's largest outfitters won't be.
Natanhala Outdoor Center will not open a store on the Columbus side of the river, as announced last year.
"Nantahala Outdoor Center and our group collectively decided them being able to open their operation in Columbus on the time frame that we required was just not realistic," John Turner says.
The good news is, Atlanta-based outfitter Whitewater Express is on board to open Memorial Day weekend.
"What an opportunity for us, we are loving it," Whitewater Express CEO Dan Gilbert says.
Whitewater Express has been training river guides for the past month and because Natanhala bailed out, it will have a presence on both sides of the river.
Whitewater Express' first stores is cross the river in the Phenix City Plaza, but now they say they will open a store on the Columbus side, as close to Broadway as possible.
"So folks on the Georgia side will have a place to walk in and register for their trip and take off for the river as well," Gilbert says.
Until then, CEO Dan Gilbert says they will be teaming up with The Outside World on Broadway.
Whitewater officials say one thing is for sure, only having one outfitter doesn't mean less traffic on the river.
"We've been booking trips for weeks anyway. Whitewater Express has been aggressively marketing the river, our own Convention and Visitors Bureau has been marketing the river," Turner says.
"We have thousands of people booked this season so this will be a good year but the things to come are unbelievable," Gilbert says.
Because Whitewater Express will be the only outfitter, it says it is reducing its prices.
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