YOUNGSTOWN – Tourists and locals alike will have a thrilling new way to view the Niagara Gorge as a fleet of three sturdy, tangerine-orange and black whitewater boats take to the Niagara River, launching the new Niagara Jet Adventures rides.
The business, headquartered at Fox Boyz Marina at 555 Water St., alongside the Village of Youngstown’s small waterfront park and the Youngstown Yacht Club, is owned and operated by Mike Fox of Lewiston and Chris Bohnenkamp, of Boise, Idaho.
“We are thrilled,” said Cheryl Butera, president of the Youngstown Business and Professional Association. “We were sold from Day One, and I’m not just speaking on behalf of myself or the business association – but everyone we talk to is thrilled, as well. This is another reason to come to the village and stay. It’s another big, big venue.”
The new operation will be competing against Whirlpool Jet Boat Rides, which has long offered trips on the Niagara River, with departures from Lewiston and Niagara-on-the-Lake, and trips from Niagara Falls, Ont., to be offered soon.
Bohnenkamp called the new boat “the toughest whitewater boat in the industry,” noting its combined 1,650-horsepower capacity.
The Idaho man’s family business, Bohnenkamp’s Whitewater Custom Boats, designed and built the boats specifically to tackle the mighty Niagara.
He said he has been building and selling boats since 2008 but learned the craft of boat-making from his grandfather as a youngster and spent decades repairing the vessels before building his own.
While the 33-foot, triple-engine Niagara series boats, as they are now known, are available for purchase by others, they are currently the only ones in operation in the world, he added.
Bohnenkamp said his company has sold other types of custom boats to tackle whitewater and other challenges in states, such as Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Nevada, and countries such as New Zealand, Canada, Holland and Russia.
The Niagara series boats cost around $550,000 apiece, he said.
“They are an amazing boat,” Bohnenkamp said. “They have a fully structured hull. Their center of gravity is very, very low, making them one of the most stable boats in the industry.”
Bohnenkamp, a self-confessed adrenaline junkie, took another of his boats on a test drive from Youngstown up the Niagara River to the base of the falls in April 2013, “to see how the hydraulics of the water would affect the design of the (new) boat.”
Fox said the new ride will not take passengers that far but will contend with the whirlpools on the river, traveling to a spot roughly between the Lewiston-Queenston and Whirlpool bridges. He added that they will operate at about 30 mph.
Fox and Bohnenkamp both commented on the ride’s smoothness, not something you expect when facing the rapids. But they agreed that comfort was another guiding force in the design, which also dictated that it be at least partially enclosed and climate-controlled.
“This is a dry ride,” Fox said.
Thickly padded seats and a tall cabin ceiling spell comfort, as well as air-conditioning and heating in the fully enclosed portion of the boat. Each boat provides roomy seating for 20 inside the cabin, as well as seating for 12 on the “wet deck” in the rear. They plan to operate seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., seasonally. The roughly hourlong ride costs $61 and is appropriate for those ages 5 and up.
“You can hear in here,” said Fox as he stepped inside the spacious boat. “People can talk, listen and look at the scenery … We’re still putting it all together, but we’re working with local historians to talk about the history here. This is the Gettysburg of the North. We’re not exploiting it, but we want to share it.”
Fox said people will see “Fort Niagara, Fort George, the original spot where the falls began at Smuggler’s Cove, the Stella Niagara Chapel, the site of the Battle of Bloody Run. The Niagara Gorge is also an important birding area, and we’ll talk about the geology. How could you see it all in one hour?”
Youngstown Mayor Raleigh Reynolds said, “Niagara Jet Adventures is a great asset to the village. And I’ve been impressed with Mike’s ideas and sense of community. He seems to be looking out for things that will be good for the village, overall, not just specific to his business.”
Fox said that since his boats leave and return to Youngstown, getting U.S. Customs approval wasn’t too difficult, but appeasing the U.S. Coast Guard has been more of a challenge, requiring numerous tests.
“The Coast Guard has high standards, and rightly so,” he said.
Fox, owner of Fox Fencing, started Fox Boyz Marina here last year, in anticipation of the new jet boat business.
A job fair was held recently to fill seasonal, part-time positions for the jet boat ride, but Fox said they also have created pilot jobs that he envisions being full time as those people move into marketing in other countries during the off-season.
For more information on the new ride, visit: www.niagarajet.com.