From put-in to take-out
Outfitter expands to serve a wide range of customers
- March 29, 2011
Some businesses work hard at being green. Some need green to be in business — and that doesn’t just mean cash.
Riders Up! Outfitters is a company that began in 2005 when Tom Kirlin, an environmental engineer-turned horse farmer, decided Clifton Forge needed a shuttle service for kayakers and canoeists. This kind of shuttle service would, for example, take kayakers’ vehicles to the spot where they plan to get out of the river.
Kirlin says that any town near a river in the West has shuttle service, even if it is a sideline for a couple of guys working at a service station. So, Kirlin started running a shuttle service along the nearby Jackson and Cowpasture rivers. “People started asking if we rented kayaks,” he says. “I was like, ‘No. No. Yes.’”
He came home one day and told his wife, Dawn, that she’d made $40. He’d rented out her kayak. Things ballooned from there. Kirlin likes to fly-fish, so he started teaching people to fly-fish. Then he started guiding fishing trips. Kirlin met someone who knows about rock climbing, so he started offering rock climbing trips.
Today Riders Up! provides outfitting for kayaking, canoeing, camping, hiking, fly-fishing, rock climbing, mountain biking, and duck and goose hunting.
Most of the activities that Kirlin handles are in Alleghany and Bath counties, but he also leads groups to the New River to fish for smallmouth bass.
In season, Riders Up! employs one other full-timer and four guides. The company calls on additional guides when things get really busy.
Dawn Kirlin has retail experience, so the couple opened a store in 2007 selling gear needed for all kinds of outdoor activities.
Because Douthat State Park is practically next door, Riders Up! also offers a camping service. The company will leave a couple of plastic tubs full of equipment and assembly instructions at your campsite. If you prefer, they’ll set everything up for you so it’s waiting when you get there and take it all down after you leave.
The slow economy has been good for Riders Up! “The family that was spending $3,000 for a beach house at Nags Head, they’re saying, ‘We’re not doing that any more.’” For about a fifth of the cost, they can get a cabin for a week at Douthat, he says. For a little more, they can get someone like Kirlin to help them with canoeing, or fishing, or rock climbing, or mountain biking, or setting up a tent.