Moab has seen quite a few changes in the last half century. And Western River Expeditions, the parent company of the Moab Adventure Center, has been there through them all.
Western River Expeditions first opened in 1961. It was taken over by its current owner, Jack Curry, in the early 1970s, said Jamie Pearce, a manager at the Moab Adventure Center.
“A couple years ago we had our 50th anniversary,” she said.
Brian Merrill, the Adventure Center’s current CEO has seen many of the changes over the last few decades first hand. Merrill originally came to Moab to work as a river guide in 1984.
“At that point the only thing going on in town was the rafting business,” Merrill said.
He stayed for a few seasons then left to become a lawyer. But after finishing law school and three years of practicing law he was back in Moab with Western River Expeditions.
“It’s been interesting to see Moab grow as a destination location,” he said.
Pearce took a similar route to get to where she is today. After coming to Moab in 1994 and working as a guide for Western River Expeditions for five years, she left for Salt Lake City to try her hand at a career in real estate. In 2004 she was back in Moab.
During her absence the tourism industry in Moab exploded.
Western River Expeditions expanded to include other activities but the demand was such that in 2003 the management decided to split the business. Western River Expeditions would do what it had always done and continue running the river, and the newly created Moab Adventure Center would handle all the other activities that were drawing visitors to Grand County.
“It has evolved from where it used to be really the only thing you could do with outfitters in Moab was rafting and off-road tours. Now everything has come online,” Merrill said.
So to take advantage of the burgeoning adventure-tourism market, Western River Expeditions bought the old Taco Bell building on Main Street and turned it into Moab Adventure Center.
“We brought on the concept of making (the Moab Adventure Center) a one-stop-shop. We teamed up with other local outfitters,” Pearce, who came back to work at the center in 2004, said. “We created this hub.”
The Moab Adventure Center focused on doing what the company knew how to do well such as river rafting, Hummer tours, stand-up paddle boarding, specialty hikes and national park tours. And they subcontracted out all the other activities, such as mountain biking, rock climbing, canyoneering, ropes courses, horseback riding, scenic flights, jeep rentals, jet boats and ballooning, just to name a few.
The idea worked.
“We started with a staff of five people and the next year our business doubled. And the next year it felt like it doubled again,” Pearce said.
The Moab Adventure Center has worked hard to keep pace with the growth and to encourage further expansion through advertising, Pearce said.
“We have a great marketing team,” she said.
Another priority has been making sure that the quality of the experiences the Moab Adventure Center offers stay on par with the prices, Pearce said.
“There’s a level of service and expectation that needs to be met,” she said.
Key to that service is the guides that take customers on their excursions.
“We put a lot of time and effort into guide training,” Pearce said. “I think that we have the best staff in the world. We specifically target people that have a certain amount of polish to them.”
And once the guides are hired the Moab Adventure Center seems to do their best to keep them.
“The company takes really good care of the employees,” said Courtney Miller, a staff supervisor and two-year veteran at the Moab Adventure Center.
Coordinating between all the staff, contractors and customers to ensure everything comes off smoothly can be a bit of a challenge, but that is one of the things that both Pearce and Miller most enjoy about their jobs.
“I love the moving pieces,” Pearce said. “I love knowing that I have a really good product to give people.”
“I can take pride in the trips that I offer and that I sell,” agreed Miller.
Though the Moab Adventure Center is always looking to expand the types of activities that they offer, their current focus is on maintaining what they have built.
“Hopefully we can continue to do what we are doing,” Merrill said. “I see a bright future.”