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15 years of serious fun

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Three Rivers 15th anniversary season

THE FORKS/MILLINOCKET Fun is a serious business. At least it is at Three Rivers Whitewater Rafting (The Home of Serious Fun) located in The Forks and Millinocket, Maine.

At Three Rivers you can have incredible outdoor adventures year round. Whether you want to camp out with your friends, bunk in the cabins, or pamper yourself at The Inn by the River, you can. And if throwing yourself down raging rapids isn't your thing (though seriously, you should try it, it's amazing) or you simply want to fill out your weekend with other activities, you can hike, kayak, go bird or moose-watching - with or without a guide. In the winter there is snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross country skiing.

For the truly bold, you can experience the ultimate thrill: Jump & Raft. Skydiving and whitewater rafting because, it's like coffee and donuts. They just go together. At the Millinocket outpost you can raft Maine's only Class 5 river rapids one day and then jump out of a perfectly good airplane the next (or vice versa).

For several years, we've held the Adventure Guru Contest in conjunction with Three Rivers. Essentially, readers sign up for the contest, we draw names out of a hat and take them on a rafting or skydiving adventure. We did this annually, until I went and had kids and had to skip a year.

I remember my first trip back in 2008. I really didn't know what to expect. I had never in my life gone whitewater rafting before. And though I enjoy being outdoors, and had been skydiving, there was something scary about bobbing down a river on a glorified air mattress. But that fear was assuaged by the crew at Three Rivers. It wasn't that they wanted you to think the rivers held no danger - on the contrary, they wanted to impress upon the groups rafting that there were dangers, they were trained to deal with most of them, and if you listened to your guides and paddled when you were supposed to, you were going to be as safe as you could be and have an absolute blast at the same time. And you do. Boy howdy, do you ever.

Water under the bridge: A bit of history

Joe Christopher and Tony Rinaldi were best friends growing up and discovered rafting on the same trip.

'It was a chance thing. [Joe], my best friend and business partner, had gone to a sportsmen's show and met with someone and booked a trip,' said Rinaldi. 'The first time we went rafting, we brought about 15 friends or so. Went rafting and had a great time. We did it two or three times that summer. We kept going back and always enjoyed it.'

He said that when an outfitter suggested the two become guides, they ended up training together.

'We were guides for five seasons, myself and Tony. We trained back in 1992, and in the fall of 1996 we decided to seek other employment,' said Joe Christopher. 'Frankly, we couldn't find anyone who took care of the guests at the level we thought it should be done hanging out with them, making homemade food. We came up with a cockamamie idea that we open our own company in 1996.'

And without even a place to operate out of, Rinaldi and Christopher purchased rafts, paddles and lifejackets and purchased an old school bus from BB's Autobody and Junkyard in Freeport. Basically investing all of his assets into the company, on May 2, 1997 they guided their first paying customers down the Dead River.

Joe attributes much of the success of the early years to writing up a business plan and sticking to it.

'We stuck to it and followed it. We knocked on doors and handed out brochures,' he said. In the fall of 1999 they bought Class 5 River Runners. Around the same time, the owner of Downeast Whitewater told Joe and Tony that he was planning on selling his business and asked if he was interested in buying it. Through some owner financing, Joe and Tony, and now Kimberly Christopher, bought what became the Home of Serious Fun in the The Forks.

'It was crazy at first. The toughest thing to do was manage the rate of growth,' said Rinaldi. 'It wasn't just Joe and I having a good time. We had a group of people having a good time and we continued to do that throughout. We made friends with the staff as well as the guests a large percentage of our staff were once rafting guests; they enjoyed it so much some changed their lifestyle to join us.'

In March 8 of 2002, the trio bought out Unicorn Expeditions, which added the Penobscot Outpost, followed by Wilderness Expeditions in 2004, completing the adventures at all Three Rivers (Kennebec, Dead River and Penobscot).

In 2006, Three Rivers joined forces with Skydrive New England and Jump & Raft was formed in Millinocket.

'The greatest thing is bringing people out into our little slice of heaven. Folks from away, not just from Maine. The wilderness is aggressive but scenic and calming at the same time,' said Rinaldi. 'I enjoy the reactions of other people at the end of the day. They can't wait to come back again.'

Joe said one of the keys to success is letting the guests participate totally in the rafting experience.

'It's too hard to work here if you don't believe in this. Our guests are not outsiders. We show them that our guests are part of what we do. We do it together with them,' said Joe. 'We're doing it together. We're the technical experts, but we hope it feels like we're all going down the river together.'

When you're here, you're family

The experience of Three Rivers is truly welcoming and fun. All of our winners of the Adventure Guru contest have had a blast. Every year I go I meet new people, have an incredibly amazing time and wish I could stay longer. And, it turns out this isn't an isolated experience. Kim Klibanski and her family have been rafting with Three Rivers since around the time Joe, Kim and Tony purchased Unicorn (The Klibanskis have been rafting before that, but took a break after their daughters were born).

'Our children were little at the time, so we waited about five years, then by the time we started going back, we went to the Kennebec and brought our daughters with us,' said Kim Klibanski. 'We loved it so much we couldn't wait for them to do it with us.'

Kim said her daughters were just old enough to make the age and weight limit for rafting.

'We've been going back ever since and done so many fun family overnight trips and spend a lot of our free summertime up there,' she said.

And beyond that, most of the Klibanski clan have become certified river guides all but Kim.

'Over the course of coming up so often, my husband was thinking it was getting kind of expensive. Todd and his brother Steve did guide training together about five years ago,' she said. 'Two years later [her daughter] Kelsey and I did guide training. I only did three days and decided I liked it better as a helpful passenger. The joke is, I'm the assistant guide or the honorary guide.'

Both Klibanski daughters, Katie and Kelsey, went on to be guides, and are still taking people down the rivers.

'It's a family atmosphere. As soon as we get up there, someone says to us Welcome home.' It started with Tony Rinaldi, and must have started when we were going with the kids, as soon as we got in the door,' she said. 'When we go up there it feels like we're already with our family.'

And for the Klibanskis, the summer fun also led to a deep friendship with Joe, Kim and Tony.

'We love the outdoors, and my husband fishes. When we go up to Three Rivers we can go on the lake, on the river, can fish, camp and have gone on a trip to Canada. In the winter, we go up and see our friends for the New Year's Eve party,' she said. 'It's such a great place to be. We leave all of our stresses behind and focus on being with our family and friends up there. And they know how to have a good time. We always have a good time.'

When her daughter Kelsey was involved in a serious car accident while in The Forks, Kim said that was when she knew the folks are Three Rivers were truly her family as well.

'People called, sent letters, and our river family really meant a lot to us. We call them our river family. It was such a hard time, but our friends were there when the accident happened and they made a difference in her survival,' she said. 'They're just really generous people in general. They also partnered with me to have a fundraiser for Life Flight and donated Three Rivers as a venue and donated food. We raised $9,000. That was a really nice thing.'

Go play outside!

With 15 years under their belts, Tony, Joe and Kim hope that they can offer a fun place for people to go outside and have a fun time.

Kim Christopher said one of the reasons she enjoys working at Three Rivers is that it gives back to the community.

'I took a group of college girls on a hiking trip they had never climbed a mountain and you can see forever. I had this group of girls I took hiking this year, and climbed Moxie Bald Mountain. We got to the top and she said, We have even gone rafting yet!'' she said. 'We get emails with people telling us how they're planning everything around coming to visit.'

And you should. You will get wet. You will have an excellent time. And you will be back.

For more information about Three Rivers, visit www.threeriversfun.com or call 1-877-ugo-raft.

Last modified on Wednesday, 13 June 2012 13:24

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