Against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains and along the shores of South River, life in Waynesboro, Virginia, happens in the midst of nearly surreal natural beauty. For residents and visitors alike, it’s hard to imagine not being drawn in some way to experience this beauty firsthand, whether from a front porch or backpacking on the over 500 miles of Appalachian Trail that meanders through the state.
This connection with nature is at the heart of the mission of Rockfish Gap Outfitters (RGO), a supply store serving locals and visitors alike that come for gear, advice, and friendly encouragement for their outdoor adventures. Whether it’s your first hike or your hundredth kayaking trip, Jack Walker, the new General Manager of RGO, and the RGO team are eager to help. “We live in this beautiful area, but a lot of people can be intimidated. There’s a lot of gear out there; there’s a lot of questions out there. So our job, our main mission, is to take anyone who is interested and just get those first couple of steps in. Whether you want to get on the water, on the road, on a bike, mountain bike, or even just cruise the beach, we can help you do it all,” Jack elaborates.
Rockfish Gap Outfitters was acquired by Jack’s father, Chuck Walker, in 1998 from the McCall family, who operated it since 1988. Chuck’s background in outdoor retail and his enthusiasm for outdoor sports and adventure made it a logical step toward entrepreneurship. Today, Jack is at the helm, but first, his path took him to New York City, where he ironically discovered his love of nature.
“I moved to New York City for school, and I lived there from 1999 to 2012. What I found myself doing after I got out of school was pretty high hours, high intensity work. For my relaxation time, I found myself going upstate to hike, and I would be on the phone with Chuck more and more, asking about gear. All of a sudden, my hobby started to turn into a passion,” Jack explains. Once Chuck was ready to retire, the inclusion of Jack as the new General Manager was a natural fit for his passion and as a continuation of the family legacy at RGO.
Although RGO is people-centric, Jack credits having the business in Waynesboro as a key to its success. “Location, location, location. The store is on the east end of town, not even three miles from the trailhead for the Appalachian Trail, let alone a quick jaunt to Humpback Rocks, or you can head over to Old Rag. The South River has some of the best fly fishing around. Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park are also great for cycling. It’s great being where we are because there are so many arteries of outdoor activity that people can enjoy. It’s really, really cool,” Jack says.
While some may be tempted by a big box store approach to outdoor gear, RGO gives nature enthusiasts reasons to reconsider that approach. Experts not only in gear but in the best hikes, biking trails, river runs, and more, the RGO team offers a consultative approach that brings people in the door and quickly creates loyal customers. Plus, RGO customers still enjoy the advantages of perks like RGO’s price matching program, easy returns, and warranty assistance.
Jack sums up the essence of shopping at RGO by drawing from a past encounter with a customer. “One of my favorite compliments was someone said, ‘I feel like I’m going into my grandpa’s barn or my uncle’s attic. It feels like a family place that has all these cool nooks and crannies filled with all this weird, fun gear that you don’t see at other places selling outdoor products,” Jack recalls.
It’s often said that an adventure is not about the destination; it’s about the journey. And while people visit RGO to be better prepared to visit the outdoors, the experience with the RGO team is sure to be a fun part of that journey. As Jack, with eloquent simplicity, puts it, “It all goes back to that core belief that the only reason we’re here really is to help people play.”
If you’re ready to play in the great outdoors, head over to Rockfish Gap Outfitters at 1461 E. Main Street in Waynesboro and check them out online at www.rockfishgapoutfitters.com. To learn more about RGO, including their Wall of Fame, their improvements to better serve Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, Jack’s advice for other business leaders, and more, head over to Spotify or YouTube for the Waynesboro at Work podcast for our full interview.