A black rubber raft races through Youghiogheny River whitewater. The inexperienced crew is facing fast, high-water conditions from the spring runoff.
On dry land: Jim Timpe, left, and his son, Luke
Ahead, a boulder the size of a house lies hidden beneath the surface. Fortunately, the whitewater guide knows it’s there and what to do about it. He aims the raft around the tough spots and helps the crew paddle hard to hit the rapids just right.
“The river can be powerful, but the more you’re on it, and the more experience you get, the more comfortable you get with the water,” said Luke Timpe, an IUP junior and whitewater guide from Homer City, Pa..
Timpe, 24, started whitewater rafting as a child and has guided raft trips down the Youghiogheny in Pennsylvania’s Ohiopyle State Park for more than five years. He’s the second generation in his family to master the whitewater as a guide.
His father, Jim Timpe, also an IUP student, worked full-time as a river guide for a decade or so in the early seventies and part-time after that. He introduced his wife, Nancy, and all five of their children to river rafting. “It has been a unique part of our life together,” he said.
Along with rubber rafts, the Timpes have paddled whitewater canoes, kayaks, and a specialized raft called a shredder that is more maneuverable than a traditional raft. A shredder looks like two inflated pontoons joined together with a fabric floor. It can be paddled solo or by two people, and it is Luke Timpe’s current watercraft of choice.
“I’d like to get a shredder and go across the country and do every river you can do on a shredder, because it’s so much fun,” he said.
As a whitewater guide, Luke Timpe teaches those in his raft to respond to the water. His technique seems to work—he has never had a customer thrown out of one of his rafts. “A lot of people think they can get on a raft and float down the river, because that’s what they’re used to at an amusement park,” he said. “The river’s not like that. You have to stay alert.”
“The first time down the river, I didn’t know what to expect. By the end of that week, I felt exhilarated.”
Luke, left, and Jim Timpe on the river at Ohiopyle
Luke is working on an IUP bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems. His father, who has a bachelor’s in Chemistry from Ohio’s Wittenberg University, earned a master’s degree in Business from IUP in 1978. He is now pursuing a second undergraduate degree at IUP, this time in Spanish for International Trade. He’s also a full-time cost accountant for Specialty Tires of America in Indiana.
His interest in rafting and his education at IUP can both be traced back to a former IUP chemistry professor, the late Ed Coleman, in 1969. Jim Timpe had a summer job as a camp counselor and found himself rafting for a week with Laurel Highlands River Tours, a company started by Coleman, who was one of the first outfitters to run raft trips in Ohiopyle.
Luke Timpe at right, following his father, Jim
“The first time down the river, I didn’t know what to expect. By the end of that week, I felt exhilarated. It was a whole new perspective on the outdoors,” Jim Timpe said. “For me, it is a unique way to experience nature.”
Over the years that followed, Jim Timpe was trained by Coleman’s staff and worked as a guide for Coleman’s Ohiopyle and Canadian raft companies. He was impressed by the hospitality the Colemans showed the guides, making them feel like part of the family.
One of the first guides Jim Timpe met was Joe Kowalski ’71. As a student at IUP, Kowalski founded the Outdoor Club, asking Coleman to be its advisor. Kowalski bought Coleman’s Canadian river outfit in its early days and built it into Canada’s largest river rafting company, Wilderness Tours. Joe Kowalski founded the IUP Outdoor Club in 1970. Select to read about the club’s history and how he built his whitewater businesses.
Over the past three decades, many IUP alumni have worked as guides for Laurel Highlands River Tours, now owned by Mark and Linda McCarty. More on the company can be found on the web at www.laurelhighlands.com.
According to Terry Palmo, the company’s vice president and general manager, “Both Jim and Luke are excellent—excellent guides and excellent people. There’s a great wealth of expertise that comes with knowing the river well. When someone has that love affair with the river, they’re sharing how much they enjoy it.”
(Read more about the outdoor club and learn about Kowalski’s jet boats on the Niagara Falls rapids at www.wildernesstours.com and www.whirlpooljet.com.)