A river guide’s reflections: life on the water

For Matt Knott, owner of River Riders and longtime whitewater rafting guide, Harpers Ferry is synonymous with world-class paddling.

“I was a full-time guide for about 4 years,” Knott said. “I guided at River Riders when I was in college and I guided a couple other rivers in West Virginia.”

In 1994, Knott trained to become a rafting guide on the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers after several close friends asked him to sign up. Without a second thought, he stepped out of his comfort zone and into a raft. The rest, as they say, is history.Whitewater rafters wearing PDFs walking to river, West Virginia

“It was really kind of a chance thing,” he said. “A friend of mine just said, ‘hey, they’re hiring raft guides. Want to go down and try it?’ I had actually never been down the river before in my life. The first time I ever went was the first day I did guide training. I’ve basically been doing it ever since.

Though his rafting career began in Harpers Ferry, Knott spent a few years several hours west guiding the Cheat River, in southern West Virginia guiding the Gauley River, and in Pennsylvania at the Youghiogheny River.

“I loved it!” Knott said. “It was the first job I ever had that I actually liked going to work!”

Today, River Riders has grown into a full-fledged resort with a variety of activities like rafting, ziplining, tubing, biking, kayaking and more. With his guiding days behind him, Matt is more preoccupied with duties he endearingly calls “the boring stuff,” like finances, policies, procedures and project management.

He’s helping plan expansions like renovating the newly purchased hotel next door for additional accommodations, and coordinating a summer camp for local kids who have limited funds— so the company can give back to the community.

But Knott still finds time after hours to enjoy the outdoors he always loved.Whitewater rafters getting ready for rapids, West Virginia

“I go out with my kids and friends in the evening,” he said. “I taught my son how to roll a kayak when he was like 6 years old. They are really comfortable on the water, on the river, hiking. It’s one of the things I was really hoping to share with them as they are growing up.”

Knott encourages anyone with a strong sense of curiosity to take the leap into outdoor adventure.

“Many of the people that we are taking aren’t necessarily as comfortable going by themselves and they’d rather go with somebody,” he said. “We are able to introduce all kinds of people to the outdoors that otherwise may not get to experience it.

“You get a group of people in one boat for a trip and they begin to bond. They work together. It’s working towards a common goal. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen guests who were frightful or nervous that went out there and conquered their fears. It has happened countless times.”

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This post was last updated on March 16, 2022