Today, the Little Miami River sparkles, sending canoes and kayaks down a path framed with greenery and frequented by local wildlife.

It's a far cry from what Bob and June Morgan saw when they moved their family to Warren County in 1964 "” a polluted river used as a dumping ground for old household appliances, surrounded by a county noted for its Ku Klux Klan presence. But behind the grimy façade, the Morgans saw something else: potential.

Today the entrepreneurial bent has manifested itself beyond Ohio in a far-off pristine paradise: the Pacific shores of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.

But long before the Morgans canoed in South America, the family started the first livery on the Little Miami in 1969, called Morgan's Canoe Livery at Fort Ancient. Bob and June's sons, Dirk, Gary, Rob and Randy, were involved in the family business from the start. Today they own and operate the business which now includes more than 1,000 floatable objects.

Setting the bar

"It's been a grand experiment," Gary says. "We were the first river recreation people in the state of Ohio and on the Little Miami River, and so everything we've learned, we've learned as we've gone. We've also tried to become the people who set the bar for the industry."

Over the years the livery has had hundreds of families and thousands of kids working for it "” "jobs that were different than throwing hay onto a wagon or working the farm," Dirk says. "It was exposure to the public. For a lot of those kids, they grew up with a broader perspective."

But to extend their exposure, the Morgans had to expand beyond the Little Miami. In 1971, the family opened the Brookville Livery in Indiana, followed by campgrounds at both locations and Morgan's Jungle Lodge in Costa Rica.

The brothers now alternate travels to Costa Rica to run the operation throughout the year. In the face of rainforest destruction, they continue to draw ecotourists to the new Corcovado National Park, which Randy describes as "a jewel, kind of waiting to be discovered." The Morgans have always been dedicated to exposing people to natural experiences, as well as committed to conservation, whether here in the Tristate or on the shores of Costa Rica.

The family also caters to different audiences, hosting an annual triathlon and a haunted river tour and taking senior citizens on easily accessible rafting trips.

More than a paddle

"A lot of people have a very simplistic look at what we do, and it's not just saying, here's an aluminum canoe, a paddle and a life jacket, and there's the river," Dirk explains. "There's a lot more that goes into it. Some people try to start a business that way, and they don't last long. We've been in this business this long because we do it right and we care about it, and it's a commitment; it's not a fast buck."

As the business continues to grow, the family has not abandoned its dedication to conservation, which they say is of utmost concern. The more people who are exposed to canoeing, the more who will care about the environment, the brothers say.

"We've always been about exposing people to the outdoors and natural experiences, and we have a serious and sincere commitment to conservation, whether it's here or Costa Rica," Rob says. "We provide a venue here for people to have a natural experience, a real experience, get out of their everyday urban/suburban existence and experience nature with their families."

The Morgans have become important to many local families, weaving both their business and the river into many lives.

All in the family

And as a family operation themselves, the Morgans have ways to keep their business flowing.

For one, there is a division of labor. Dirk runs the riverside campground, cabins and corporate group area; Gary manages the Brookville location and special events; Randy runs the Fort Ancient location; and Rob works as an entertainment industry architect and uses his skills to develop programs at the livery.

"There's a lot you can learn from the river about (running a family business)," Randy says.

"Like 'Go with the flow,' and 'Don't rock the boat.' These are all things that came from rivers that we use in everyday life."

His brothers chime in:

"Don't get in over your head. Don't fight the current. Don't get up the creek without a paddle."