ECHO Goes Over the Hill
We are so excited that 2011 will be ECHO's 40th season of river running! What started as a wild and adventurous sport for only the "lunatic fringe" (as co-owner Dick Linford referred to our early guests) has blossomed into one of the best vacation choices families can make for a memorable trip together.
Back in 1972, Joe Daly and Dick Linford had a dream; a dream of ditching school (both were teachers at the time) and heading out to run the wild rivers of California. It took until 1979 for these two to plunge full-time into the boating business, but with summers off they had had plenty of time to slowly build their business into a successful rafting enterprise. By 1981, ECHO was running day-trips and multi-day trips on 19 stretches of river throughout 5 U.S. states. Dick and Joe weren't the only adventurous duos to start a rafting business back in the '70s, but their cooperation has proven to be successful as the longest running partnership of river outfitters in the country.
So what are the highlights of these 40 years? ECHO was the first outfitter to employ female river guides, who proved to the boatmen that it took more than brawn alone to get people through whitewater successfully. They also made for a more family-friendly experience in camping, which changed the industry from a sport for only wild adventurers, to a great option for family vacations. Multiple romances have sizzled between river guides and some guests even got in the game, resulting in 13 guide-guide marriages and 10 guide-guest marriages! ECHO has had at least 10 second-generation guides, some that work for today!
We've seen rivers gain and lose environmental protections throughout our 40 years. ECHO was a key player in the opposition to the New Melones Dam on the Stanislaus River. Its construction removed all rafting opportunities as it flooded the canyon creating a large reservoir, and the loss of the Stanislaus' whitewater is remembered as a sad defeat. However, Joe Daly points to the silver lining: New Melones was the last dam built in California as the controversy over its construction brought so much attention to the environmental movement. Two river victories came later with the defeat of damming proposals for the Tuolumne River in 1984 and its tributary, the Clavey River in the early 1990s. ECHO remained a leading outfitter on the Tuolumne until 2007.
Dick and Joe were very involved with river conservation and developing industry standards throughout the years. Dick served on the Board of Directors of American Rivers for 10 years, which is the principal river conservation group in the U.S. He currently serves on an advisory board for the National Park Service. Joe was president of the Tuolumne Trust for 12 years and served on their board for 15. This organization was instrumental in securing Wild and Scenic protection for the Tuolumne in 1984. At present, he serves on the Tuolumne Trust Advisory Board. Both worked on several trade association boards including the Western River Guides Association, America Outdoors and the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association.
The gear that we use to run trips has vastly improved throughout the years. Before self-bailing boats became the norm in the 1980s, guests and guides alike were forced to bail out the "bucket boats" after each big splash. The handy throw bags that no respectable boater would be without these days, was simply a rope tied to the bow or stern of the raft. Camp gear has vastly improved as well making trips more comfortable with lighter and more portable options that can be easily transported in a raft. Paddle jackets have replaced trash bags on the cold and wet trips.
Things started changing for Dick and Joe when they found themselves running a rafting empire without much rafting for themselves. After considerable soul-searching they began downsizing in the hope of emphasizing quality over quantity. They developed a mantra of quality of river, quality of trip, and quality of lifestyle, as they methodically eliminated the rivers that didn't hold their magic. Today they know that the gems they retained, the Rogue River and the Middle Fork of the Salmon River are the two finest rivers in the West. Both are designated Wild and Scenic rivers offering the strongest protection a river can have, but perhaps more importantly, they were among the eight original rivers granted that status in 1968.
In 2008, ECHO made its big move to Hood River, Oregon. Dick and Joe were both ready to take a step back from the day-to-day operations. They put their company in the capable hands of Zach Collier, a long-trusted river guide. Zach has been instrumental in keeping ECHO afloat as advertising became more Internet-driven. He continues to run the company for Dick and Joe with a trusted staff of outstanding river guides and a stellar office crew. Zach has also pushed the envelope for ECHO's international adventures by expanding our trips abroad to include Bhutan, Nepal, Chile and Siberia in addition to sailing in Turkey. Zach looks forward to a bright future for ECHO as we expand to new rivers throughout the world while maintaining the amazing quality that our guests have come to expect on the Rogue and Middle Fork of the Salmon Rivers.
So is ECHO going over the hill for our 40th season? Nah...we are just heading around the river bend and hope to have you along for the ride!