Cascade Raft & Kayak has been in the business of fun for three decades. All of it interwoven with the Long family who, for three generations now, has learned every ripple and meander of the Payette River.
These days, the operation runs like a perfectly-oiled machine, with hundreds of guests experiencing the beautiful Payette under the supervision of an expert guide each week. Wild whitewater, calming float or a little bit of both — the level of thrill can be customized depending on the trip.
Afterwords, rafters peruse the photos of family or friends, eyes wide as they paddle through a rapid. Then wrap it up by taming that ample hunger with a sandwich and a microbrew or soda at the Cascade bistro overlooking the river.
All in all, a perfect day nearly every day.
But Debbie Long, the matriarch of the business and family, remembers scrappier days.
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She and Tom, her husband, met as kids, just 11 and 12. They spent time riding horses together in the foothills of Pasadena, California. Eventually, the friendship became something more. They became high school sweethearts, married, and started a family.
We have the real bonus in that what we do is really, really fun. People are excited to be here. Even on the days when you start with less energy, you remember, ‘We’re going rafting. This is awesome.’ – Kenneth Long
The couple made their living operating three restaurants in Sacramento. It was a good living, but wasn’t quite giving them the life they wanted.
“We had a thriving business in California, but we didn’t have any time for life,” Debbie says. “The boys were into competitive kayaking. My husband is one of those visionary guys, and he thought Idaho was the place for us. It was a total roll of the dice.”
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So in 1991, they packed their bags and move to Garden Valley to try their hand at river guiding.
Do It Yourself Business
A few years later, the Longs moved the business from Garden Valley to a riverfront plot of land near Horseshoe Bend. Their son, Kenneth Long, who was a teenager then, now general manager, says the family built up the business with a few rafts and little else.
“We started on a gravel bar on the side of the river with hardly anything there,” he says. “There was lots of labor, lots of digging holes. But we also had tons of time on the river.”
These days, guided raft trips are a staple of many Idaho rivers. But in the 1990s, tourists hadn’t yet discovered Idaho’s natural splendor. Few outfitters operated in the state back then, and the Longs were the first in their region, just as they later opened the first kayaking school.
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Times were lean at first. Debbie remembers feeding the kids Stinker hot dogs from the gas station — three for $1 — one summer when the family was just scraping by. But the family kept building its headquarters and slowly expanding the business.
“We started with a hammer, saw and nails,” Debbie said. “We’d put rocks in a circle, add soil and water, and that would be a flower bed. We’d build a deck, add a barbeque, and that’s how we started catering. Each year, we’d do a little more, and 90 percent of it we did ourselves.”
With half and full-day float options, as well as varying degrees of whitewater intensity available, Cascade has the floating experience for every level of adventure.
All in the Family
The three boys, Kenneth, Chad and Tren, each started as guides at 18 before later taking responsibility for various aspects of the business. Their wives — Anna, Krista and Lindzie — each brought their own enthusiasm for the river and professional skill sets to the company.
Kenneth says the family enjoys the river and the sunshine as much as their guests.