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The battle on the Lehigh

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    BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Caiden Hurley, 10, from Jim Thorpe, squirts a watergun during this year's Merchant's Day rafting trip. His sister Leila, 8, in the background, is reloading.
Published July 13. 2013 09:03AM

"Battleships armed!"

Jennifer Marouchoc of Molly Maguires Pub & Steakhouse sat perched on the front of the "SS Minnow" and locked sights on a raft full of local business owners just ahead.

Throwing down her oar, she grabbed the bucket resting near her feet, filled it with water from the churning Lehigh River and soaked a group of representatives from Broadway Pub & Grille, in turn, taking heavy fire from Broadway's water gun artillery.

Talk about healthy business competition.

This was all part of Pocono Whitewater's biannual "Merchant's Day." For the past 12 years, Pocono Whitewater has invited businesses in the Jim Thorpe area to spend the day rafting down the river, free of charge.

"Basically, we do Merchant's Day because we want to give back to the Jim Thorpe merchants and make sure the town knows about our products. There are so many great businesses in town and we want to remind them that we are up here and help spread the word about how awesome it is to be on the river," said Nikki Hurley, director of marketing.

This year, 34 businesses from the Carbon Chamber and Economic Development, Jim Thorpe Chamber of Commerce, and the Pocono Mountain Visitor's Bureau took to Pocono Whitewater's family section of the river, an eight-mile stretch that launches in the town of Jim Thorpe and ends in Bowmanstown - with a stop in between at a private location in Lehighton for lunch.

Now, a trip down the Lehigh River can certainly be relaxing.

The birds swoop above in lazy circles and the scenery provides a welcome change to the somewhat nature-lacking areas of everyday life. The class 1 to 2 rapids are small and one can float down the river without getting wet at all.

That is, if you steer clear of certain other rafters.

What was once called Merchant's Day might be more aptly named "The Battle of Merchant's Day."

Before hitting the river, I attached myself to the representatives from Molly Maguiires Pub & Steakhouse for the day. My raft mates, Marouchoc, Mary Seelig, Todd Truskey and Chris Gehres, could not have been friendlier or nicer but only to me. Highly experienced with the Lehigh, no raft was safe from their downpouring assault.

Approaching a boat drifting portside of our raft, team captain Seelig called out, "Friend or foe?"

"What?," the boater shouted back.

"Are you a friend or a foe?"

"Oh, foe. Probably," someone answered slightly uncertain.

Although this enemy boat had us outnumbered, we were better armed and rowed away fromthe ensuing battle victorious to chants of Seelig.

"Left side paddle! Right side paddle! Now, everybody paddle!"

Although our team's weapon of choice was the bucket, 10-year-old Caiden Hurley said his favorite part of the day was shooting the water guns.

Molly Behan, 14, said she liked being with her friends and recalled an instance when a member of another boater jumped onto her boat during a battle.

The key to a successful raft was a good team captain and representatives from the Comfort Inn Pocono Mountain and The Ch'teau Resort at the Conference Center realized this only halfway through the day.

After getting themselves stuck on a rock in the river for a period of time (or as Pam Saldibar from the Ch'teau put it: "sightseeing"), they blamed team captain and front desk personnel at Comfort Inn, Joe "Towel," and declared mutiny.

"He was too busy getting everybody wet with water," said Heather Waltz general manager of Comfort Inn and the newly elected team captain.

Despite some mishaps, Waltz said the day had been a great team-building activity and now the members of her staff would be able to go back and advise their guests on what to wear and bring if going out on a Pocono Whitewater trip.

Waltz said, "Overall, it was a great adventure for the Comfort staff to get to know the river to tell our guests so Merchant's Dday is well appreciated."

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