Adventure company a bright spot during pandemic

Photo courtesy of Lake Powell Adventure Company A group of kayakers paddles through Antelope Canyon.
Below: Photo by Blake Tilker/Lake Powell Chronicle A 9,000-year-old petroglyph panel was vandalized in Buckskin Gulch.

PAGE – As COVID-19 crippled small businesses world wide, the outdoor industry in Page blew up more than ever.

Lake Powell Adventure Company was launched by three local, wilderness guides in May 2019 with nothing but success on the horizon of Lake Powell.

Specializing in kayak tours as well as electric mountain bike and off-road 4x4 tours, Lake Powell Adventure Company started gaining momentum and quickly found themselves at the top of TripAdvisor. Bookings and tours for the 2020 season were coming in from everywhere, and then COVID-19 hit like a sucker punch.

Lake Powell was essentially shutdown by closing all public boat ramps on April 6, 2020, which also shutdown Lake Powell Adventure Company’s ability to operate kayak tours.

“We were coming off our first season and had a lot of bookings at the end of 2019 and all the way into October of 2020,” said Craig Little, one of Lake Powell Adventure Company’s owners. “We had plenty of bookings and ended up refunding about $30,000, which for our small company, was a lot. Especially, when we were using some of that capital to build our business. It was a struggle.”

LPACO also offered vouchers to tourists who thought they might return; however, the majority took the refund.

“We were unsure of what was coming,” Little said. LPACO applied for the Economic Industry Disaster Loan, and after a couple of months, they did receive a small bailout. “It was great when it did come in because we were really running a shoestring operation and certainly weren’t getting paid. It was very nerve racking.”

COVID-19 worked its way from China and through Europe as early as January. LPACO’s visions for 2020 were blurry at best.

“When the park shutdown, it was a pretty dark time for us in terms of not knowing when it was going to open back up,” Little said. “Lone Rock opened up just after Memorial Day and people were traveling, people were ready to bust out. All of us were shocked at how busy we became as soon as things opened up. Lone Rock was as busy as I had ever seen it.”

Little has been guiding kayak tours at Lone Rock since 2012 before starting his own company. Little says Glen Canyon National Recreation Area was helpful and transparent with any and all updates.

“The big question was when Antelope Point public launch ramp was going to open, because, between the park and the Navajo Nation, there was a lot of uncertainty as to what was going to happen,” Little said.

Antelope Point public launch ramps opened on July 25, 2020. “From the time it opened, through November, we were at capacity. With the walking tours of upper and lower Antelope Canyon being closed, everybody wanted to go to Antelope. Kayaking was the only way to do it,” Little said.

A dry section of Antelope Canyon is legally accessible below the high-water mark which Little refers to as “Lowest Antelope Canyon.”

When asked if Lowest Antelope Canyon was the busiest it has ever been, Little said, “By a factor of five. Incredible.”

While not as tall or narrow as upper and lower Antelope Canyon, paddlers can still get a taste of the canyon, which was in high demand during the pandemic.

“People were going to France. People were going to Cancun. People were going to wherever and those plans changed. Going to a big city didn’t make a lot of sense, so everybody wanted to come to the southwest parks,” Little said about the boom in his business once the pandemic took over.

The kayak season typically shuts down at the end of October, said Little. “We were at capacity through November” of 2020, he said.

The 2021 season is unknown. If there is a bright side to this pandemic, it’s the companies like LPACO who can offer up a moment in time to escape the uncertainty of Covid-19, one paddle stroke at a time.

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