Burbank couple takes over tour boat business

Unless you own a jet boat, one of the only ways to really see the Hanford Reach National Monument is aboard the Chinook Wind, owned by Cheryl and Mike White of Burbank.

They bought Columbia River Journeys and its boat April 30 and have spent weeks replacing engines, seats and the public address system.

"Now it's ready to go out on the water again," said Cheryl White.

She and her husband always have enjoyed the outdoors, hunting and fishing. They have owned a fishing boat for years but decided to take the leap to running a tour boat this spring.

"The opportunity presented itself," she said, "and what better way to enjoy the outdoors than owning this boat and being out there every day?"

Cheryl White worked in travel and tourism in Louisiana for five years. She began as a flight attendant, progressed to reservations and then to travel agent.

"So running a tour boat business is a good fit for me," she said.

When the travel industry hit a slump in the 1980s, she went back to college, studying engineering and eventually graduating with a degree in drafting and design. That led her to the Tri-Cities and Hanford, where she worked for 18 years. He's a general contractor and owner of A-Z Enterprises of Burbank.

Now they are ready to try a new venture.

The Chinook Wind is 28 feet long, 11 feet wide and holds 22 passengers, plus the driver. Columbia River Journeys offers three standard tours, narrated by the boat driver, Ray Hamilton of Kennewick: the Snake River to Ice Harbor Dam, the Columbia to the Vernita Bridge/Vernita Bar and the Hanford Reach National Monument.

"The Hanford Reach is our most popular and the most stunning tour, with spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife viewing and its rich history," Cheryl White said.

They also can go 40 miles up the Columbia River to the N Reactor, a place you only want to take a jet boat, she said.

"There's not a lot of water over the rocks and other debris in the water at that point. We've seen some boats get stuck out there. It's not pretty," she said.

The Whites also offer custom tours as long as your group meets their minimum of 12 passengers.

"We've gone as far up the Snake as Winddust Park (southeast of Connell)," she said.

There also is an option of doing combination water and land tours.

Cathleen Williams of Kennewick does catering and agricultural/wine tours throughout the Mid-Columbia.

"Often I meet the boat at White Bluffs (on the Columbia) and take them back to town through the farmlands," Williams said. "There's a lot of beautiful farms and wineries along the way."

"Jet boat tours are an excellent addition to our tourism portfolio," said Kris Watkins, president of the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau in Kennewick. "Nature tours like these help the economics of our region and include an element of education. On narrated tours, they point out the terrain, talk about the great ice age floods, the Manhattan Project, the Native Americans who used to live along the Reach and the early settlers. Then there's the opportunity to spot deer, beaver, terns, pelicans and other wildlife."

"People, myself included, who have taken one of these tours find it a great experience and come away with a much better understanding of the history of the region," Watkins said.

The boat tour season runs from May 1 to Oct. 15. After that, Cheryl White said, it starts getting really cold on the water.

Each tour lasts several hours. The one to the Hanford Reach takes four and a half to five, while the trip to Ice Harbor Dam runs about two and a half. Costs vary depending on the tour. Adults going to the Reach pay $90 each, plus tax; youths are $75.

"We can also do shorter, three-hour tours of the Columbia River, just call and ask for prices," said Cheryl White.

There's no food included, so take your own snacks and beverages or ask about catering options.