Paul Fogal is the owner of Pocono Whitewater, Skirmish Paintball, and Pocono Biking – all of which are in the heart of the Lehigh Gorge. Back in 1977, Paul and his father were looking for a river on which to locate a whitewater rafting tour company. They looked in West Virginia and New York, but the Lehigh River drew them in.
“I am still amazed to this day by the natural beauty of the gorge,” said Paul.
The Poconos, synonymous with tourism, is conveniently located to major population centers. This, with the fact that the Class 3 river allows for more people and families to enjoy rafting, made it a natural choice. Paul and his father opened Pocono Whitewater and were later joined by his brother. Today, Paul’s two children and two nephews are also employed there, so it is truly a family affair.
Paul enjoys being outdoors with his wife and other family members, sharing his enjoyment of the scenery and history of the Lehigh Gorge.
“It’s fun to paddle the river or bike the trails and imagine what it used to be like when there were trains on the tracks and boats on the canal. This area was once a transportation hub. You see old photos of what it was like when anthracite coal was being transported by rail and now the area is so much wilder, with many more trees.”
Over the past 46 years in business, Paul has seen many positive changes. For instance, the biggest impact on his business was when the old railroad grade was turned into the Delaware & Lehigh Trail, running more than 140 miles from the northern metro area of Philadelphia to just outside of Wilkes-Barre. The trail brings in new visitors, supporting businesses in the region.
Another change was the establishment of the Lehigh Gorge State Park in 1986. Park improvements included converting the canal towpath into a bikeable and walkable trail and improving river access points.
“The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has been an excellent partner; I’ve worked with them for nearly 40 years. They have a good working relationship with outfitters, and they recognize that rafting is a benefit to the local economy, bringing in at least 200,000 people annually. Lots of local kids get hired by outfitters and they learn about the river and the environment.”
Another improvement in the Gorge was the creation of a water management plan for the river, which expanded the recreational opportunities available. The state park, the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), elected officials, and private businesses and individuals – including Paul – partnered to expand the purpose of the Francis E. Walter Dam north of White Haven (which was originally constructed by USACE for flood control) to include recreation. Once implemented, outfitters could run rafting trips in the summer months, when the river would historically run too low without periodic releases of water from the dam.
Paul notes that the Lehigh is one of the most popular rivers for boating in the country, and while you might not be able to whitewater paddle year-round, there are plenty of other things to do, from biking to cross-country skiing.
“Being outdoors keeps me healthy, so I encourage others to spend time outside too. I am grateful for being able to make a living doing something I enjoy doing while being in such a great place as the Lehigh Gorge,” he added.
To view learn more about the economic benefits of tourism to Jim Thorpe, catch the video at: https://ppff.online/utube-video-economic-benefits.
By Jessica Aiello, PPFF Guest Writer