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A river runs through it

To say that Kathleen Wood knows the portion of the Colorado River between Hoover Dam and Willow Beach like the back of her hand is definitely an understatement.

She knows every cove, bend and probably each creature that has greeted her and her guests for more than 30 years.

It was the late 1980s and Wood had returned to Boulder City when she was offered a part-time job as a narrator for Black Canyon River Adventures, which was founded by the late Jim Bob Rowland in 1982. At that time, the National Park Service awarded a concessionaire’s license to Rowland but said the tours had to be narrated. A script was written up and approved by the Park Service. Because of her teaching background and love of the outdoors, the job was a perfect fit for Wood.

At that time, each raft, which held 20-25 guests, had a pilot and narrator as they made their way from just below Hoover Dam, through the canyon on their way to Willow Beach. Eventually, that position was combined so the one piloting the raft also did the narration.

While the concession has changed hands four times, one constant has been Wood, who has been leading tours now for more than 36 years. This has included not only being a guide but doing sales and marketing and operations and logistics.

But her first love has, and always will be, the river.

“When I first started, I was not a good narrator,” she said, laughing. “A couple years in, I was pulled aside and told that when the raft pulls out, I need to look at the dam and then look at the passengers, and say, ‘See that tower that’s leaning out from the canyon? My grandfather helped erect that. That will give you your start and people right away will want to make a connection with you. You have that, which is something the rest of us don’t have.’”

Despite leading the same trip well over 1,000 times, Wood said the excitement is still there for her. And yes, the original narration script approved nearly 40 years ago is still used, verbatim, to this day.

“Every time down you see something different,” she said. “The passengers are never the same and the wildlife is different every day. For me, it’s been a passion this entire time.”

Wood was born in the old Boulder City Hospital and graduated from BCHS in 1974. Her family came to Boulder City two generations earlier as her grandfather worked for the Department of Water and Power and was responsible for power lines from Barstow, Calif. to Hoover Dam. Her other grandfather also worked at the dam as a security guard.

Even though she was born here, Wood’s family (which includes her twin sister, Colleen) moved to Las Vegas where she attended elementary school and junior high before they moved back just before she started high school. That’s when her parents bought the visitors bureau, which was located across the street from the movie theater. It was known for its 29-minute free film on the creation of Hoover Dam.

“It was kind of tough for me,” she said of returning to Boulder City just before high school. “But besides the outdoors, something that’s always been a theme in my life has been athletics.”

At that time, BCHS had just started forming female teams and Wood played on both the softball and basketball squads.

“It really made me feel like I was part of something,” she said of high school sports.

She would later take those skills and play softball and basketball for Adams State College in Alamosa, Colo. She received her degree in secondary education and physical education and while there, she became the college’s first certified female athletic trainer. After graduating she stayed in Colorado where she became a high school P.E. teacher for four years while coaching volleyball and basketball.

After a short stint in Arizona, Wood returned to Boulder City where she co-owned the Travel Centre in the mid-1980s. By 1987, however, she said she had gotten tired of working indoors and there happened to be a part-time opening for sports editor of the former Boulder City News. It was just a few short months between starting at the newspaper and when she began her rafting career. She worked for the Boulder City News for 12 years.

“It was great fun because I still knew some of the teachers,” she said of returning to cover her alma mater. “Aside from athletics and the outdoors, one of my other loves was that of writing. As time went on, I got to cover the children of my classmates. It was so much fun writing, going to games and taking photos.”

For her dedication to BCHS sports as the town’s sports editor, Wood was inducted into the Golden Eagle Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2003.

“I was super honored. It was definitely a surprise,” she said. “It was just a great feeling and something I will always appreciate.”

Ron Eland is editor of the Boulder City Review. He can be reached at reland@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523.

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