OARS Gives Back 2022: A Year of Contributions to Causes We Believe In

Barking Dog rapid on the South Fork of the American River

Throughout 2022, we worked hard to offer guests unforgettable adventure experiences on rivers and in wilderness around the world. Our staff understands that our business relies on the preservation of wild places and the accessibility of nature. For decades, we have incorporated efforts to support conservation and provide access to rivers for those who need it most as a fundamental part of our operation.

“Going back to our earliest roots, OARS has always operated with the desire to inspire a connection to nature and to help protect our wild places,” says Steve Markle, OARS vice president of sales and marketing. “As a small family-owned business, our biggest opportunity to make a significant impact is to get people out on the river to experience these wild places for themselves and make that connection.”

With free or nearly free trips, OARS and the Pam & George Wendt Foundation helped hundreds of young guests who otherwise may not have had a chance to experience rafting get on the water. In Utah, OARS hosted a group of more than 20 from the Moab Valley Multicultural Center. In California, more than 300 under-resourced youth and young adults, mostly from urban areas, joined OARS for a one-day rafting trip on the South Fork of the American River, and many spent a night camping for the first time at the OARS American River Outpost.

“My students are already asking when we can go again,” said Elaine Bryce, a teacher for Life Academy in Oakland, California, who brought two groups of 12- to 14-year-olds on American River rafting trips, sponsored through the Pam & George Wendt Foundation.

Rafting the American River with a group sponsored through the Pam & george Wendt Foundation

For the first time, OARS organized and hosted a free rafting trip for a group of 55 Native American youth on southern Oregon’s Rogue River. The trip was led by OARS guides with assistance from Chinook tribe members who helped the young rafters learn about their river heritage. The trip was so large it took rafts and equipment from several outfitters to make it happen.

“Guiding 50+ Native students from the Konaway Nika Tillicum summer program was easily the highlight of our summer,” says Carly Boyden, an OARS Rogue River guide who led the trip. “It was great seeing the kids transform from feeling anxious as they got off the bus to bravely jumping off the rafts and initiating water fights (even targeting their instructors and guides!). There was no shortage of laughter, excitement, and lasting memories—What more can you ask for?”

OARS continued its whitewater guide school scholarship program, hoping to increase access to quality training. Three successful applicants were awarded fully-funded spots to attend guide schools in California and Utah with two continuing their training and working for OARS throughout the summer as full-time professional river guides.

For the second year in a row, OARS hosted a group of homeless and under-served youth from the Sacramento LGBTQ Community Center for a sponsored one-day trip on the American River to celebrate Pride Month. In addition to the fun-filled day of rafting, OARS donated $5 for every person who rafted the South Fork of the American River Sunday through Friday for the entire month of June—a total of more than $3000 to the organization.

“In the last year we’ve provided just about 7,866 emergency and transitional bed nights for the hundreds of LGBTQ+ youth in our region experiencing homelessness. Undoubtedly, OARS’s annual pride campaign to raise funds for our 24/7 shelter plays a pivotal role in achieving that,” said Lanz Nalagan, Sacramento LGBTQ Community Center’s Director of Giving. “Even more, the additional commitment to take our residents, respite clients, AND staff to the outdoors reflects OARS’s commitment to their mission and dedication to spreading the value of outdoor recreation in all the ways they can. We love OARS!”

South Fork American River with Sacramento LGBT Center

In July, OARS donated nearly $5000 to Justice Outside, a Bay Area-based non-profit focused on racial justice and equity in the outdoors. The campaign was again centered around the South Fork of the American River, with $5 from every person who rafted the section with OARS Sunday through Friday throughout the month going to the organization.

In addition to monetary donations to social causes OARS believes in, the company also made meaningful donations to conservation organizations focused on preserving the rivers of the West. OARS hosted River Management Society for a series of 1-day rafting trips on the Lower Klamath River in Northern California and a 1-day rafting trip on the American River.

“Fifty current and past river managers, stewardship advocates, scientists, and members of tribes who have been involved in the decommissioning and removal of four hydropower dams gained a better understanding of the complexity and significance of what will be the largest dam removal in US history,” said Risa Shimoda, executive director of RMS. “ We also learned a great deal about ourselves as privileged users of our rivers, as it has become more clear that rivers are resources we must share in ways we may not yet understand.”

To American Rivers, OARS made a monetary donation and helped the non-profit make progress toward their goals by donating trips on the Lower Salmon for their staff and Nez Perce tribal leaders.

“Not only did this trip allow us to bring key leaders together to discuss lower Snake dam removal and ways to keep the momentum going, it also filled everyone’s bucket,” said Amy Souers Kober, vice president of communications at American Rivers. “We needed this! So much fun and laughter. Giving this group such awesome river time filled their tanks for the big work ahead.”

Throughout the company’s 53-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.

2022 Donations

OARS made both cash and trip donations to these organizations during 2022. Some payments will process during the last two weeks of December.

  • $26,000 in pass-through donations to regional conservation organizations
  • $5000 to the Whale Foundation to support health and mental health services for the Grand Canyon guiding community
  • $5000 to Redside Foundation to support their mission of providing Idaho outdoor guides with access to mental and physical healthcare and substance abuse counseling
  • $3000 + donated outfitter services to American Whitewater
  • $3000 to American Rivers + donated outfitter services
  • $3000 to Grand Canyon Trust
  • $3000 to Sacramento LGBTQ Community Center
  • $4800 to Justice Outside
  • $1600 to Friends of the River
  • $1650 to Tuolumne River Trust
  • $2500 to Calaveras Community Foundation for The New Melones Lake Scholarship in Honor of CT Tutthill)
  • 3 fully sponsored need-based whitewater guide school scholarships
  • 311 sponsored trips for under-resourced youth through the Pam & George Wendt Foundation
  • Discounted fully-outfitted multi-day charter trips for Friends of the Yampa River, American Whitewater, River Management Society, and American Rivers
  • More than 50 trips for two or more donated to local community non-profits and conservations groups for fundraising

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