A Blue-Sky Kind of Guy: The Great Outdoors with Paul Breuer
Even though he’s traded in his raft for a tractor, a theme runs through Paul Breuer’s life—helping others enjoy the great outdoors.
By Richard Banks | Photos By Stasi Bara
“I love it when I get out in my office,” says Paul Breuer, as he takes a seat behind his “desk,” or what most of us would call a raft.
For the better part of his 65 years, he’s paddled that floating escritoire on the waters of his “offices,” West Virginia’s New and Gauley rivers.
The two rivers, just miles apart, at least as the crow flies, slice through some of the most rugged mountainscapes in North America. Up top, the scenery is bucolic; down below, bankside, these rivers rage with a monstrous, nature-made fury borne of house-sized rocks rising from the channels, canyon walls and rushing water on which people tempt fate and bone-crushing rapids in tiny boats.
Today, both the New and Gauley are considered to be among the finest whitewater rivers in North America. In fact, Gauley has been ranked in the top 10 most challenging such roller coasters worldwide, and Paul was among the first to see the potential in the peril.
Back in 1969, as a teenager from Ohio, he joined his high school’s shop-teacher-cum-employer on a now-storied jaunt down a particularly treacherous stretch of the New River that few others had, at least wittingly, floated. Rapids were run, rafts were destroyed, Paul and his cohorts were tossed into the drink and on the brink of disaster. Says Paul today, “I was too young and, well, stupid to know we could’ve died. Man, it was great!”
It was also the beginning of Mountain River Tours, Paul’s whitewater outfitter that was, in 1973, the first such business to regularly run the Gauley and among the first to guide on the New. (The National Park Service even mentions Paul in its “Timeline of Gauley River History.”)
He ran the business for some 35 years, expanding it into operations in the Western U.S., Kentucky and the Florida Keys, the latter being a sea kayaking business. Back home, he helped develop the area’s outdoor recreation trade, which, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, accounts for nearly $8 billion in consumer spending in West Virginia alone. Mountain River was also a pioneer in safety, being the first outfitter in the U.S. to require customers to wear helmets. “We figured a person’s head was worth a $5 helmet,” Paul says now.
Even though he sold Mountain River Tours, which is now part of Adventures on the Gorge, one of the largest outfitters in the Eastern U.S., Paul remains something of a living legend on the rivers. He still floats the Gauley and New when time allows, even occasionally guiding a few lucky souls through rapids and monster waves. While doing so, Paul, ever the affable river guide, has even been known to tell a few stories about the rivers and the people who’ve floated them—some of which are actually true.
These days, though, you’re more likely to find Paul managing his “401(k),” aka Country Road Cabins, the 19-cabin, 89-acre resort he owns and runs with his wife, Jennifer. While this new business doesn’t require him to wear a life vest or a helmet, it does present its own challenges: building codes, maintenance, advertising, the rare guest who doesn’t understand quiet time, and even his and Jennifer’s self-described problem of not knowing when to stop.
“We wanted to develop something year-round, because rafting is seasonal,” says Paul, “and lodging was very limited in this area.”
“Our friends were actually the first people to put in some deluxe cabins at nearby Summersville Lake,” explains Jennifer. “They were successful and we decided we had the property and a scenic wooded area, so maybe we would try to put one or two up.”
“And then,” interjects Paul, “it developed into another one or two, and another one or two, until we’re at 20 now, and we could still grow.”
Location Is Where It’s At
The Breuers started building the cabins in 1996, about the time Paul started downsizing his outfitting businesses. Jennifer had worked as a sales manager and wanted a new pursuit, and the cabins would allow them to work together.
The acreage they chose is not only scenic, but it’s also less than 10 miles from the base for Adventures on the Gorge, where tens of thousands of folks begin their rafting trips and where Paul still sits on the board of directors. Located just a few steps farther is the famed New River Gorge Bridge, the 3,030-foot structure that is the fourth-largest single-span arch bridge in the world and site of Bridge Day.
That’s when, on the third Saturday of each October, the structure is closed to automobile traffic and an estimated 150,000 people visit the area, some of whom simply walk across the span, while others rappel down the 700 feet to the river below or even jump off it, the latter carried to the ground via parachute.
“There are lots of outdoor recreation opportunities here, from whitewater rafting, tree-canopy zip line tours, horseback riding, Summersville Lake … even skiing in the winter,” says Paul. “We try to package our cabin stays with these outdoor activities. It is wild and wonderful West Virginia.
“It’s a great location,” he adds. “And that, together with the fact that we’re hands-on when it comes to running this place, is a big reason we feel like we’ve been successful.”
Planning, Preparation and Perspiration
“Done right, it’s a very good income producer,” says Paul of the cabin rental business. “There’s a number of steps you want to go through and do your due diligence.” For instance, he says you have to be fairly conservative and understand your market, researching such things as how much lodging is already in the area and why people would want to visit it.
“It’s like any project,” he continues. “You do the planning, you do the preparation and, then, finally, the perspiration, if you will. But,” he says to Jennifer with a smile, “we had a great time with that.”
To that end, the Breuers have taken the divide-and-conquer approach to building the business, and maintaining the grounds and buildings. While they do have as many as eight employees depending on the season, Paul says he and Jennifer basically “do two things: One is that she takes care of all of the decoration in the cabins and the guest hospitality, and I do the maintenance. I get to ride the tractor,” he says, noting he spends the majority of his time at this new “desk,” which he uses for a variety of tasks, such as mowing, maintaining gravel roads and exterior cabin maintenance.
The Breuers, however, say that taking care of guests is both job one and the biggest perk. “I love the opportunity to meet new people,” says Jennifer. “A lot of our cabin guests even have become friends, so we keep in touch with them over the years … we feel like they’re even a part of our family now.”
“Just like in the outfitting business,” says Paul, “I get to introduce people to the outdoors. That’s what got me into the business in the first place.
“And,” he continues, “I still get to work out in my office. It’s just that this one is on dry land.”Show Full Article