CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The sternwheeler Spirit of West Virginia, the last commercial excursion boat operating on the Kanawha River, will depart in October for a new home in Louisiana.
After offering public rides on the 40-year-old excursion vessel for four seasons, owners Dick and Nancy Daugherty of Dunbar have sold the Spirit of West Virginia to a retired Louisiana towboat operator.
"It's my understanding he will use her as a private vessel," Daugherty said. "His grandparents lived on a similar boat."
Daugherty cited the high costs of insurance, maintenance, fuel and personal time as reasons contributing to the decision to sell the vessel.
"Operating and promoting an excursion boat business is a time-consuming proposition," Daugherty said. "I have a car dealership [West Virginia Used Auto Sales] in Cross Lanes and Nancy has a full-time job, too, and running the boat while doing our other jobs kind of runs us ragged in the summers. But the main thing is that we have grandkids living out of state that we'd like to see more often."
That said, getting out of the excursion boat business is a bittersweet proposition for Daugherty.
"I feel privileged to have owned and operated this boat for a period of time," he said. "We've been up and down the river several times, from Deep Water to Point Pleasant, giving people rides at a lot of fairs and festivals along the way. We've brought a lot of joy to a lot of people, especially the first-time riders."
Ruble's Sternwheelers in Belpre, Ohio, built the 85-foot excursion boat in 1973. Originally named the Valley Gem, the 49-passenger sternwheeler's first job was as a ferry, transporting sightseers to Blennerhassett Island State Historical Park. The boat later operated out of Huntington's Camden Park as the Camden Queen, and served as an excursion boat on Ohio's Muskingum River.
The Pride of West Virginia will be making her final public excursions in the Kanawha Valley Friday and Saturday at the Dunbar Fall Festival, and at Charleston's Rod Run & Doo Wop car show Oct. 3-5. For more information, visit www.wvpaddleboat.com or call 304-419-2497.
"I'd love to see another boat operating here," said Daugherty. "I think because of our rich river history, the Kanawha Valley needs an excursion boat. I'm a licensed captain, and I'd be willing to help in any way I could. But it will take a philanthropist to help subsidize it, because the excursion season is too short and the costs are too much to make money with it."
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.