Southern Utah News Articles
Top Stories for August 17, 2017
Ron Smith to be inducted into the River Runners Hall of Fame
On September 30, 2017, Ron Smith, founder of Grand Canyon Expeditions, Inc., will be inducted into the River Runners Hall of Fame at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River, Utah.
Smith was on his very first river trip in 1955 at age 13. He talked his father into taking a family excursion in their power boat from Green River, Utah, to the confluence with the Colorado River and upriver to Moab. His father and siblings got sick early in the trip. Ron took over as navigator, and thus began his love of river running.
In 1961, the day after graduating high school, Smith went as a paying customer through Canyonlands National Park with Georgie White. During the trip, one of her rafts capsized and Ron recovered it. By the end of the trip, White was impressed enough with his river skills that she hired him on as a guide. Two years later, Ron and Sheila Smith started Grand Canyon Expeditions, Inc.
What set Grand Canyon Expeditions apart from other river businesses was the quality of the experiences provided to their guests, the unique equipment designed specifically for river running, and the high safety standards the company insisted upon. Ron was the first outfitter to carry porta-potties, fire pans, tents and ice for fresh food on multi-day expeditions. He set many of the commercial boating standards that exist today. He was the first to offer special-interest expeditions focusing on geology, photography, history, archaeology and art.
He began his commercial river running using military surplus rafts and pontoons. Over time, he re-designed these rafts, developing the S-Rig, which became the primary boat used for expeditions through Grand Canyon. Working with a manufacturer in West Virginia, he designed and built many different models of inflatable boats for running rivers. He also built kayaks, canoes and aluminum jet boats.
As Ron’s inflatable boat designs improved, opportunities arose to explore rivers in other parts of the world. Grand Canyon Expeditions made the first successful run of the full length of the Omo River in Ethiopia. The S-Rig was used by the British military on the Congo River in Africa. With the National Geographic Society, Grand Canyon Expeditions conducted reconnaissance trips of the Indus River in Pakistan and the Blue Nile in Africa. Jacques Cousteau used the S-Rig to explore the headwaters of the Amazon River in Brazil.
In 1986, Ron sold a majority of his ownership in Grand Canyon Expeditions. He is now retired and spends many of his summers at the headwaters of the Green River. Grand Canyon Expeditions is in its 54th season.