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‘Moral dilemma:’ How one Idaho rafting company dealt with the pandemic

ICCU Idaho
Future in Focus: McCall

Co-owners Lauren and Chris Demo, of Salmon Raft in McCall, faced one of the biggest decisions for their business and the greater good of their community:

To stay open or close for rafting season. 

“I think the decision to keep our business open was probably one of the biggest moral dilemmas that we faced both personally and for the sake of the business,” Lauren said.

Changes for good measure 

The Demos stayed open. In response, they, like many businesses, made several modifications to their business. 

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Salmon Raft is a whitewater rafting and fishing company that runs trips on the Salmon River, offering trips ranging from one to five days. The trips include meals and camping equipment. 

The Demos are running their company at half capacity this season. For this year, Salmon Raft decided not to offer single-day trips— only multi-day excursions. The multi-day trips are much smaller than what they normally offer. They changed a lot of their original layout to ensure a safer experience. 

“Every family gets their (own) raft,” Lauren Demo said. “Right off the bat, this has affected the logistics of the rest of our business because it means that there are more guides per trip. Which increases our overhead.”

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In years prior, Salmon Raft would put multiple couples on a raft. Now, every couple is on a separate raft. 

The Demos are requiring masks anywhere on the property, in the vehicles, on the way to the river, and on the way back. But masks can come off when the trip begins, as Lauren says remaining six feet apart is not difficult. 

Lauren and her husband are still seeing a variety of clients. They believe this is due to the measures they have taken. 

“We’ve had a lot of returning clients, and lots of new clients,” She said. “I think part of the reason that we’ve been able to stay open and run the trips we have scheduled is that we have a very in-depth set of policies and procedures and new protocols for this season. 

Lauren says they have been letting clients know about the changes in advance. 

“So they’re well informed of all the actions we’re taking to reduce our risk of exposure and their risk of exposure,” she said. “…All of this extra communication and these extra steps have given them the confidence to come and keep business with us.”

‘What’s the right thing?’

View this post on Instagram

Our 2020 river season has been a challenge, to say the least. We never thought that we would be in a position where we needed to weigh our livelihood with the health and safety of our clients, staff, public, and ourselves. But here we are! In response to COVID-19, we have implemented many new policies and procedures. This began in May for our business. But as the situation has escalated in recent days and weeks, our protocols have evolved to match the increasing level of risk. In addition to our strict operational changes, we have also made the tremendously difficult and unfortunate decision to cancel and reschedule many of our river trips this summer. *Please note that this post is not notification of your trip’s status – we have contacted affected parties.* If you would like more specific information about what actions we are taking in response to COVID-19, please send an email to info@salmonraft.com. It is our hope that our guests and the public recognize the gravity of our current situation, and that everyone does their part to stay safe. And, yes, for many that has meant postponing time on the river for sometime in the future. For visitors to our business and community, please be cautious and do your part to protect our vulnerable region. And to everyone who has been impacted by these challenging circumstances, we are grateful for your understanding and flexibility. Thank you.

A post shared by Salmon Raft (@salmonraft) on

Lauren says they’ve had a busy season and are comfortable with the amount of business they‘ve seen, considering the circumstances. But she and her husband have struggled.

“What it came down to was the question of, ‘is it the right thing to bring people to our small community,’” she said. “But at the same time knowing full well that if we didn’t operate and we didn’t have a river season, we would struggle to pay our bills and put food on our table.” 

Lauren says it’s been a difficult year.

“It’s been probably the biggest challenge, and I hope it’s the biggest challenge we’ll ever face.”

The conversation about whether to stay open or close for safety reasons has not yet ended in the Demo household. 

“Unfortunately, it’s a daily conversation between my husband and myself,” she said. “Trying to decide if it’s still the right thing to stay open. We have about a month left of our busy season. We’re trying to grapple with the question of, ‘do we run the rest of our trips and feel good about going into our offseason with a bit of a nest egg, or do we shut down and risk not having enough money to get by to next year?’”

Lauren believes there should be more leadership from the local and federal government’s guiding businesses on what they should do. She says the decisions they have made for Salmon Raft have been challenging. 

She wishes people would understand the major decisions small business owners are currently facing. 

“I think it’s important to remember that all of us small business owners are not collecting a paycheck from some big corporation,” Lauren said. “It’s a horrible moral dilemma to face. But for those of us that have made the decision to stay open, it’s because we feel that it’s the best decision for our families. And it’s the only way we can pay our mortgages and keep food on our table… The easy answer is everyone should just sit down and hide out for two weeks or whatever. Clear the air. But a lot of us can’t afford to close our doors.”

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Autum Robertson
Autum is a BoiseDev reporter focused on Ketchum, McCall and general news. Contact her at autum@boisedev.com.

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