In 2014, Simon Briant was a salesperson for a large payroll company, Automatic Data Processing, in Lynnwood. He worked with small businesses on their administrative tasks and helped them comply with government regulations on HR and payroll. During the summer of that year, one of his co-workers mentioned that they had been river tubing on the Snoqualmie River. The Co-Worker had put together a bus load of people, had the bus drop them off on Fish Hatchery Road, and pick them up at the Community Park. Her comments were that the river was busy, there was trash all over the exit sites from overflowing garbage cans, and parking was a mess.
Simon decided to look up information on this activity having river tubed elsewhere prior to this occasion. There was nothing except a blog from local volunteer Del Moore (floatsnoqualmie.com). Del, his wife Nancy, Nancy Myer and other members were volunteering to pick up and recycle trash on busy weekends during the summer. Del’s blog highlighted trash issues, frustration from the downtown community about parking, and general chaos from a lack of information being provided to a large amount of folks “winging-it” on the weekend. A store named Trinkets and Treasures were renting out old rubber truck tire inner-tubes and the gun shop was selling tubes.
In his research, Simon also found two articles from 2011 and 2012 that stated how bad things were on the river:
One article says: “The Youtube video “Snoqualmie River Floating” shows it all, the good and the bad: the rows of summer rafters, relaxing in the sun, the parked cars, the piles of garbage.” -Snoqualmie Valley Record, 2011
As a reminder, this was entirely prior to the existence of Fall City Floating LLC.
After a visit to the river during a weekend in 2014, Simon saw the chaos for himself. He additionally found a report from King County from 2013 that showed over 26,000 people used the river for floating, boating, and kayaking during that 2013 summer.
With this information in hand, He saw an opportunity to help a community, put some of his small business expertise to good use, and make a fundamentally positive business.
Our Business Plan
After putting together a general business plan, Simon met with King County Parks in late 2014 and the Fall City Community Association (FCCA) in January of 2015. He was met with skepticism. The situation from the previous years was so pervasive in the minds of both parties that any mention of a river tubing business made folks uneasy. In his presentations to all parties, he stated that we would focus on the following:
Trash: Our game plan was to take over all responsibilities of trash management from Del and his crew by the end of 2015. This included an additional pick up of Fish Hatchery Road and Zurflueh Boat Launch in addition to the areas that Del had already been maintaining in the King County Community Park, Downtown Fall City, and the Plum Accesses.
Traffic: Visitors had either been bringing out buses or bringing two cars to the river. That is the nature of river tubing: you need a vehicle at the top and a vehicle at the bottom of the river. We would implement a shuttle service that cuts the number of cars that come out to Fall City for river tubing by transporting people up to the boat launch in vans and trailers, meaning they only had to bring one car. This would mean our customers would be incentivized to park at the bottom of the river, on the North Side, away from Downtown.
Toilets: King County Parks and the Taxpayer was fronting the cost of the portable toilets in the King County Park and at the Boat Launch. We would take over that cost from them and provide the toilets, in addition to the employee oversight to ensure they were adequately stocked daily.
Tubes: Looking down the river on that busy day in 2014, Simon saw people on air mattresses and pool floats. The river was lined with popped inflatable equipment that were inadequate for this activity. We would provide sturdy rental equipment that would eliminate this last ditch effort to find “anything that floats” when your family & friends invite you to go to the river.
With this in mind, we set forth in our partnership with the King County Parks and commentary from the Fall City Community Association. We presented the final business proposition in the spring of 2015 to both parties and the business opened in June 2015.
Our Yearly Analyses
We wrapped up our 2015 year with a proof of concept. We came away with the following take-a-ways:
Our maintenance of Fish Hatchery Road was greatly appreciated and noted by the Spring Glen Community. Daily pick ups even reduced the amount of time that general garbage dumps from non-floaters remained on the road as noted by residents.
Parking was improved in Fall City due to the incentive of river users to park on the north side of the river. There were still a few people who hadn’t heard of us who parked downtown, but the majority moved over.
Educating tubers on where the trash sites and portable toilets were, in addition to informing newbies about the general process of floating this river, was a great help to the community and reduced the amount of floaters getting out of the river at unintended areas.
We needed to add more shuttles. You will see our first few reviews in 2015 were about the wait for our one single shuttle. We had no idea how popular we would be right off the bat and did what we could on our limited budget. We added another shuttle in late July which helped.
Rental tubes greatly reduced the number of tubes left at the side of the river. Our tubes were strong and had covers to protect against the rocky bottom in the latter months.
The County was alievated of the cost of providing portable toilets and the parking lot was much better organized with our supervision. We attend to these toilets daily and refill them with toilet paper about 3 times a day on busy weekends.
We didn’t need to advertise. We did a groupon for the weekdays to get us started for 2015. By selling out of our rentals every single warm day, it was obvious to us that we did not need to advertise our services from here on out. We haven’t paid for advertising since this summer of 2015, outside of web hosting fees and emails to our customers about their reservations & company policies.
We implemented the following items for 2016:
More rental tubes. It was clear that once we ran out of tubes on any given day, folks would go to the nearest safeway or hardware store and find anything that floated. Despite our lack of advertising in 2016, we would still sell out. We decided that if we at least provided enough rentals, there would be less unsafe tubes on the river. We increased our rental stock to 200 total tubes.
We took over the entire trash program. Del and Nancy weaned their trash program over to us during 2015 and we took it over entirely for 2016. We took full control over both Fish and Wildlife sites, Zurflueh, Downtown Fall City, the Fall City beach from Raging River to El Caporal Mexican Restaurant, the RV Park Beach and we continued our management of Fish Hatchery Road and the Community Park. There has been no one else managing the trash on the river since this time-frame.
We provided even more toilets. We had 3 in 2015, and bumped that up to 5 for 2016.
We emphasized parking north of the river on busy days. Communicating with non-customers to park on the north side the river away from downtown with signs and in-person commentary. Parking would fill up such that cars would be lined up to a mile down Neal Road. Our win here was that parking was still open in downtown Fall City even on busy days and our customers respected our parking directions.
We introduced limited signage to the river. We wanted our customers to be able to navigate the river slightly easier and avoid a stringer located at 47°33'13.6"N 121°52'28.1"W.
After reviewing items in 2016, we made the following adjustments in 2017:
We added an overflow lot. We had no parking problems at the bottom of the river with the addition of this lot and received appreciation from the surrounding farms that Neal Road was finally cleared of floater traffic. Counter to our initial thoughts of an unused field being open to use as needed, we were cited by DPER for this use on our property and have hence started the current permitting process. Downtown Fall City had 6-10 floater cars per day of locals who refused to park on the north side of the river. Compared to 2014 or years before, we think that is an astronomical improvement.
We encountered more river obstacles due to heavy snowfall in the winter of 2016-2017. We had to adjust the volume of our signage on the river to warn floaters about possible obstacles (logs & trees) ahead. There was a period at the end of June when calls to emergency services were high due to these obstacles. We posted more information on the river on July 6th and emergency calls reduced to one or two total for the remainder of the whole summer. We also added a major effort to our employee-to-customer communication to increase safety specifically around these obstacles during check in and during the safety briefings.
We changed the style of rental tube that we were using to a singular piece tube. Our 2015/2016 tubes were a two piece (inner tube and cover) design. When we changed to the enclosed cover design, the tubes were even sturdier (same material as the pontoon of a boat) and did not have the ability to have the cover fall off. We will be replacing the entire stock of older 15/16 tubes for this new style in 2018.
Every year with Fall City Floating, we have looked at what has worked and been a community benefit and what has not. As our annual budget increases, we have more resources and we are implementing more expensive plans to ensure the river is used sustainably for our customers and the many other users of the river each summer to come.