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June 08, 2009
Feeling The Pinch
Riggins, Idaho, known as Idaho's Whitewater Capital, is the place to be on the first weekend of June every year. Thrillseekers of all shapes and sizes converge to raft the big water of the Salmon River.

Six friends and I took our rafts to Riggins this weekend and joined in the festivities. We had a great time - we made two runs through the biggest part of the river, got flipped in the biggest rapid, and had a fantastic time despite rain being the predominant weather condition. Compared to years past, however, we had a lot less company on the water.

Frankly, the town just wasn't hopping like in years past. A close friend of mine lives in Riggins, and commented on some of the things affecting the local economy. First, a ski resort that recently opened had been employing a large number of local residents for construction work at great wages. However, it recently filed for bankruptcy, putting all those locals out of work.

Next, since consumers are holding on much more tightly to their wallets, the outfitters just weren't filling up their rafts with paying customers, despite offering trips at bargain-basement prices. A direct result of fewer rafters is fewer hotel guests, fewer diners in the local restaurants, and fewer patrons at the bars.

Despite tough economic times, the spirit of Riggins was as strong as I've ever seen it. We spend a lot of time rafting the Salmon in the summer, and we do our best to support the local businesses. However, Riggins is just one of thousands of little towns across America who are struggling to survive in these times of turmoil. Too often, I think we forget about them.

So here's my word of encouragement this week. Look in your local papers for a small town festival that's not too far from where you live. Believe me, there are plenty of them. One of the small towns close to me has a Combine Demolition Derby every year. Yes, I'm serious: Huge farm machines battling it out at the rodeo grounds. Go support these small towns - they'll welcome you with open arms, and I can guarantee you'll have a lot of fun.

I'll be heading back to Riggins a few more times this summer. As the owner of one of our favorite restaurants there said as we left yesterday morning: "Come see me again real soon! I have a mortgage to pay!"

Make it a great week.


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