Summer tourism looking different in Steelville

    The summer season has arrived, and the coronavirus crisis has definitely changed the way local outfitters and resorts will do business with those who come out to enjoy the local rivers, campgrounds, and other lodging facilities.

    Three Rivers Publishing reached out to a number of local resorts to find out how the Memorial Day weekend went for them, and to see what new procedures they are following in order to try to keep people as safe and healthy as possible. We also asked how customers are responding to the new way of visiting the area.
    The Rafting Co. and Garrison Canoe Rental and Campground both had good opening summer weekends and have new procedures in place to protect visitors and employees. On the other hand, Cobblestone Lodge has decided not to reopen for the 2020 season.

The Rafting Co.
    Paul Wilkerson, owner of The Rafting Co., said the first big summer weekend went better than expected. “What we thought was going to be a dismal Memorial (Day) weekend due to the early weather forecast, ended up being a pretty decent three-day weekend,” he said.
    In the week before Memorial Day, rainfall caused the Meramec River to rise and flood the lower part of their recreational vehicle camping area. Wilkerson said The Rafting Co. had the area completely booked, but “knowing that is was going to be a muddy mess, we called people that had those sites booked for the weekend and canceled them.”
    However, by Saturday, with warm weather drying out the area, they were able to rent out some of those sites to drive-in customers with RVs. On Sunday, with continued warm winds, they were able to rent out the rest of the sites. Wilkerson said those who just showed up helped their numbers.
    He reported the campground was busy along with the sports pub and sandwich shop on site. “All in all, it was a pretty good weekend,” he said.
    Wilkerson said The Rafting Co. is following procedures set by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Missouri Canoe & Floaters Association (MCFA). “We have sanitized the buses, shower house and store/pub/sandwich shop,” he said. “We have opted not to bring in Porta-Potties because of the health factor.”
    He noted both their RV sites and other campsites are spacious enough to comply with social distancing guidelines. The outfitter also has installed signs around the business to remind people to practice social distancing.
    The shower house on site gets sanitized three times a day.
    For transportation, The Rafting Co. is allowing only one or two groups on their buses. One group gets on the bus and sits in the back and the other group sits in the front. At least one seat row separates each group. Only one family can travel in a van at a time. All vehicles get sprayed with sanitizing solution after each run.  
    Wilkerson said customers are responding well to the new rules in place to prevent the spread of illness. “People are very appreciative that we have taken the time and effort to comply with the guidelines,” he said. “Everyone seems to be pretty understanding since we're all in the same situation. Customers are just glad to be able to get outdoors and enjoy some fresh air. Let me put it this way, I saw nothing but smiles this past weekend.”  
Garrison Canoe Rental and Campground
    Tammy Gaddis, Office Manager at Garrison’s, also reported a positive response from those who visited the outfitter over the Memorial Day weekend. “We have had a very positive response from everyone that they are just so happy that we are open, and they are able to get out,” she said. “We had a great Memorial (Day) weekend. We had a lot of new customers as well as repeat business. Since the weather cooperated, we were able to put people in the river all weekend.”
    Gaddis also reported the outfitter has implemented several new procedures during this time. Those include limiting the number of people allowed in the store at a particular time, ensuring public bathrooms and shower houses are sanitized each hour, separating groups being shuttled to the river on buses and sanitizing the buses after each group, sanitizing all river equipment after each usage, offering online vehicle registration in order to speed up the check-in process, asking that only the group leader come in to the store to make changes and pick up paperwork.
    Gaddis noted, “All of our customers were very happy to follow the guidelines that were set forth by MCFA that we modeled our procedures from.”

Cobblestone Lodge
    Lee Layton Jr., owner of Cobblestone Lodge, has announced the resort will remain closed for the 2020 season. When asked what factors lead to the decision, Layton said, “We have spent many weeks contemplating how to effectively open our doors to everyone without posing a health risk to our guests, staff and family. The social element is the heartbeat in nearly all that we do from our entertainment and meals to our float trips and facilities. There is simply no manner in which we can operate while minimizing inherent risks of the coronavirus.”
    Layton said, although there is natural disappointment in the decision to remain closed, the majority of the reactions of guests and staff have been positive and understanding.
    “We want our guests to come here and have positive experiences, not meals in styrofoam containers, closed facilities, extremely limited entertainment, and limited or no float trips. We don’t want to take a chance of finding out that opening was a bad idea should anyone fall ill.”
    The resort will keep all of its year-round staff, reporting that any seasonal staff who would be affected by the closure most likely have other income sources. Cobblestone Lodge plans to reopen again for the fall and winter months.

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