OARS Gives Back 2021: Our Contribution to Conservation and Access to Rivers

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Rafting the South Fork American River

OARS was founded with the belief that conservation and accessible rivers are inextricably connected to the company’s success. Throughout the 2021 season, we acted on these beliefs, donating tens of thousands of dollars to efforts to preserve and protect rivers and help create a more welcoming and inclusive river community. These contributions continue to be a source of pride for the staff and guests of OARS.

“It’s always been part of our mission to inspire a love for wild rivers in all people through fun and meaningful experiences in nature, but we know many people never get the opportunity or have never felt welcome on the river,” says Steve Markle, OARS Vice President, Sales and Marketing. “This year, we’re especially proud to expand our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts by getting more under-resourced youth out on the water, creating a need-based guide school scholarship program for aspiring river guides, and through our partnerships with organizations like the Sacramento LGBT Center and Justice Outside.”

A group from the Sacramento LGBTQ Center rafts the South Fork of the American River.

In June, OARS partnered with the Sacramento LGBT Center to host a celebration of Pride Month. In addition to providing a subsidized trip for the Center’s members, OARS donated $5 to the organization for every guest who rafted the South Fork of the American River Sunday through Friday throughout the month. The initiative raised $4,090 for the Center’s efforts to create a healthy and culturally rich LGBTQ+ community. OARS is already looking forward to continuing the partnership through 2022 (more info about our 2022 Pride Day event here).

“The Sacramento LGBT Community Center, among its many services, provides 24/7 housing solutions for LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness. Through a partnership with OARS we raised enough money to cover the cost of a month’s worth of housing, case management, and wraparound services for five youth,” says Lanz Nalagan, acting Chief Development Officer. “On top of that, OARS donated experiential trips to our residents – a remarkable experience for those whose time outdoors was never really about recreation. We can’t wait to continue growing this relationship and introducing our residents to the beauty of the outdoors.”

To mark BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month in July, OARS donated $4,705 to Oakland-based nonprofit Justice Outside to support their goal of advancing racial justice and equity in the outdoors. The funds were again raised by guests who rafted the South Fork of the American River Sunday through Friday throughout the month.

Rafting the Yampa River

In 2021, OARS gave over 50 trip vouchers to community and national nonprofits to help with fundraising. Additionally, OARS outfitted trips at deeply discounted rates for river advocacy groups Friends of the Yampa, American Rivers, and American Whitewater to help support their critical work.

“In the 10 years that we have partnered with OARS, we have hosted over 150 people and created an alumni of Yampa River lovers who understand the importance of supporting, protecting, enhancing, and preserving not only the Yampa but other rivers in Colorado and in the Colorado River Basin,” says Kent Vertrees, an organizer for Friends of the Yampa.

And, once again, in 2021 OARS facilitated more than $27,000 in voluntary pass-through donations from guests to support regional conservation efforts. Every year OARS asks travelers on each of their trips to donate a minimum of $1 per person per day to a local conservation organization. Beneficiaries include the Grand Canyon Conservation Fund, Greater Hells Canyon Council, Idaho Rivers United, Tuolumne River Trust, and Utah River Council among others.

The company also gave $3,000 to American Rivers, as well as $5,000 to both The Whale Foundation and The Redside Foundation, groups that help support the health and wellbeing of the guiding community.

Rafting trip made possible by The Pam and George Wendt Foundation

In addition to direct donations to nonprofits, OARS also works with The Pam & George Wendt Foundation to offer river trips to under-resourced youth. In 2021, OARS provided the guides and equipment for 151 youth to go on 1-day guided river trips in California and Utah (check out our full 2021 Foundation recap here). Since 2015 OARS has provided free or highly-subsidized 1- to 6-day outfitted rafting and kayaking experiences for more than 2,000 under-resourced youth for groups around the West composed of Latinx youth, refugees, Native American youth, rural and inner city kids, disabled youth, children of incarcerated adults, survivors of sex trafficking, and foster children, along with kids from mentoring groups, and leadership development programs.

2021 By the Numbers
  • $27,000 in pass-through donations to regional conservation organizations
  • $4,090 donation to Sacramento LGBT Center
  • $4,705 donation to Justice Outside
  • $3,000 donation to American Rivers
  • $5,000 donation to The Whale Foundation
  • $5,000 donation to The Redside Foundation
  • 151 subsidized 1-day trips for under-resourced youth
  • 4 fully-sponsored, need-based guide school scholarships awarded
  • Over 50 trip vouchers for local and national non-profits
  • Discounted multi-day trips for Friends of the Yampa River, American Whitewater, and American Rivers

Throughout the company’s 52-year history, OARS, in partnership with our guests, has contributed more than $6 million to conservation initiatives and organizations that work to preserve the environment. We look forward to continuing our commitment to the environment and to fostering accessible and welcoming river experiences for years to come.

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