EXPLORING THE ‘TROPICAL’ GRAND CANYON

By Jana Cunningham, communications specialist, University Marketing & Communications

In 1993, Kelly Bricker, Director of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and her husband, Nate Bricker, instructor in the same department, embarked on an adventure to establish a whitewater rafting company in Fiji to promote conservation and sustainable tourism. The company, Rivers Fiji, takes guests off the beaches and into the tropical rainforest to explore the Wainikoroiluva and the Upper Navua rivers, all while protecting and preserving the area. Below is a Q&A with Kelly Bricker about how the company got started and its conservation efforts.

 

Q: How did Rivers Fiji begin?

A: In 1993, after nearly 10 years of working with travel programs, we had always worked for operations already underway — this was perhaps what we felt was our last opportunity to start an ecotourism project from the ground up.  We felt this was a time in our lives to take a risk, and have one more adventure before settling in to a stable professional endeavor. So with a willing investor; manufacturing partners; George Wendt, founder of O.A.R.S.; Glenn Lewman; and willing mataqali (landowners), our adventure began.

We moved to Fiji in February 1998, after two years of developing the plan for Rivers Fiji.  We started the company to make a difference, to try to apply principles that assist in conservation of unique river corridors and provide an opportunity to diversify economic benefits for residents in the rural highlands of Fiji. In 2000, we established Fiji’s first lease for conservation, called the Upper Navua Conservation Area.

Our mission is to enhance and support guests’ and indigenous peoples’ awareness and appreciation of the culture and environment. Rivers Fiji provides activities that promote conservation and preservation through environmentally sensitive and socially responsible interaction with people, landscapes and ecosystems that make the Fijian Highlands distinctive and unique.

 

Q: What activities does Rivers Fiji provide?

A: Whitewater rafting, inflatable kayaking, waterfall hikes and sea kayaking.

 

Q: What are the conservation efforts?

A: Rivers Fiji created a unique model for Fiji, the South Pacific and perhaps the world — a lease for conservation whereby each individual tourist experiencing the unique river ways of the rural highlands contributes to local communities and Rivers Fiji’s efforts to protect the 25-mile corridor.

Namosi Valley

PHOTO CREDIT: Pete McBride

Namosi Valley

In addition to the lease for conservation, Rivers Fiji has conducted education outreach programs for school children, parents, landowners, government officials, university groups and nongovernmental organizations.  To support conservation within the area, Rivers Fiji successfully secured a grant to support interpretation and infrastructure development (i.e., roads and bridges) to enable ongoing river experiences for guests. The lease for conservation has spawned a number of initiatives such as scientific inquiry into the geologic and ecologic systems — which yielded the discovery of a new species of fish and iguanas thought to have been extinct from the island, and the largest known grove of endangered sago palms.

It is our hope through participation in Rivers Fiji programs, guests leave with a greater appreciation for the role tourists play in conservation of culture and environment. Guides provide information to guests who are visiting villages and other cultural situations that require particular protocol, including dress, behavior and other culturally specific nuances. Briefings on kava ceremonies are also held prior to guests’ involvement. Guides are from the areas we travel, so they are able to provide first-hand knowledge of their traditions and lifestyle.

 

Q: What is the future of the company?

George Wendt, co-founder of Rivers Fiji and founder of O.A.R.S.

George Wendt, co-founder of Rivers Fiji and founder of O.A.R.S.

A: The future of Rivers Fiji is excellent and perhaps will continue to be a model for others to use in the South Pacific. We are dedicating these successes to George Wendt, the co-founder of

Rivers Fiji and founder of O.A.R.S., who lost his battle with cancer this summer. George’s passion was to protect rivers and ensure people experience these arteries of the planet in a meaningful way.  The future of the company carries George’s legacy and will continue to fight for conservation of Fiji’s unique resources.