River Riders earns top award at Chamber event
River Riders, a rapidly expanding Jefferson County tourism business, was selected to receive the George E. Vickers Business Award at the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner on June 19.
The business, owned and operated by Matt Knott since 1998, is located in Harpers Ferry and offers everything from river adventures to zipline tours, hotel accommodations and now bus trips.
Knott, who worked summers at the original River Riders business when he was young, said he felt flattered to receive the prestigious award.
“It was awarded exactly 20 years to the day I bought the business,” Knott said. “I never thought the business would expand this much.”
Knott, who was named the West Virginia Small Business Person of the Year for 2017 by the U.S. Small Business Administration, said this week that when he bought the business, it focused on whitewater rafting and tubing.
“I had worked as a river guide for the previous owner,” Knott said.
Knott had gone to school at Shepherd and was working for an insurance company when the business came up for sale. There were 10 employees then, and the business offered tubing and rafting.
Knott, who said he’s spent the years doing what he loved, was able to expand the business to include other adventures along with the river activities. In 2011 the company had a Canopy Tour built.
“It was our first foray into the zipline industry,” Knott said. “People still love it.”
He said the company added the aerial adventure in 2012, and it has “really done well.” That venue, he said, led to the zipline that was opened last week for children.
According to Knott, while his business was doing great, he found that many visitors were struggling to find someplace to stay when they came to visit the area. Over time, he was able to acquire three vacation rental homes adjoining the property, which are now available for guests to book throughout the year. He also owns two long-term rentals on the roadway.
In 2015, Knott was able to purchase the then-Quality Inn that adjoins River Riders on U.S. 340 outside of Harpers Ferry. He was able to renovate the entire facility to bring it to a high standard, he said.
After years of hard work to bring the business to where it is today, Knott said it was an honor to receive the George E. Vickers Award for business of the year. George E. Vickers, for whom the award is named, was as an integral part of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, serving as manager from 1968 to 1992 and under the new title of executive director until his retirement in 1995.
And Knott isn’t done expanding the business. He said he has long-term plans to convert the business to a “resort” and offer multiple packaging opportunities. He hopes to have the process complete within the next three years. In addition, he and General Manager Tyler Tummolo recently joined forces to purchase Schrock Bus Tours in Winchester, Virgnia. Knott hopes to offer resort outings including transportation to visitors from the Washington, D.C., area with the addition of the bus line.
“Every aspect complements the other,” Knott said of the expanding pieces of the River Riders business.