OARS Gives Back 2023: Reflecting On Our Contributions

A group rafting the Rogue River in Oregon
Youth from Konaway Nika Tillicum floating into a rapid on the Rogue River. | Photo: Dylan Silver

The delicate balance between environmental conservation and cultural diversity is more critical than ever. Long known for its commitment to environmental stewardship and, more recently, for fostering diversity in outdoor recreation, OARS stepped up again in 2023 to make a positive impact. Through both financial donations and efforts by our staff, we brought a renewed focus to supporting conservation causes and enhancing diversity in the outdoors.

“Throughout the year, we continued to support the conservation and social causes that we feel are important to our staff and that will make a meaningful difference for our rivers, our communities and our guests,” says Steve Markle, OARS Vice President of Sales and Marketing.

Recognizing the strength in increased diversity within their own staff and the outdoor industry, OARS and the Pam & George Wendt Foundation maintained its one-of-a-kind Guide School Scholarship program, rewarding three individuals with fully-sponsored spots on their week-long guide schools in California and Utah. This initiative aims to provide opportunities for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds to break into the world of river guiding. The scholarship covers the costs of seven to nine days of whitewater guide training, helping ensure that financial barriers don’t hinder aspiring raft guides from pursuing their dreams.

A group of OARS guides standing on the bank of the South Fork American River
Emma Nance (third from right) with a group of OARS guides on the South Fork American River. | Photo: Dylan Silver

 “Receiving the scholarship and becoming a raft guide was a life-changing experience for me,” says Emma Nance, who received a scholarship, trained on the American River and then worked as an OARS guide. “I learned so much, from how to rig the rafts to reading the water, especially during a high water year, and most importantly safely taking down people on the river, while having an amazing time. Being a full-time guide during the summer transition of my high school and college years was definitely challenging but the welcoming and accommodating crew made my adjustment a lot easier. Another challenge that I overcame was learning how to work with customers and providing a meaningful experience. I was only able to have this once in a lifetime experience because of the scholarship and am very thankful that it was available through OARS.”

A group of youth on a Pam & George Wendt Foundation sponsored rafting trip at the OARS American River Outpost. | Photo: Dylan Silver

Through donations based on the number of rafters on the South Fork of the American River in California, OARS helps fund important social causes. For the third year in a row, OARS partnered with Oakland-based Justice Outside to support their first Cultivating Community Outdoors conference, ultimately making a donation of over $4000. And through the month of June, OARS raised more than $2500 for the Sacramento LGBT Center. These initiatives align with the company’s values of fostering a sense of belonging for everyone in outdoor pursuits.

Again partnering with the Pam & George Wendt Foundation, OARS has taken its commitment to giving everyone an opportunity to get out on the river a step further by offering hundreds of low-cost trips on the South Fork of American River, Colorado River and Rogue River. By providing these opportunities to communities that may not have access to outdoor adventures, OARS is helping to break down barriers and creating lasting memories for participants. The company hopes that by exposing diverse groups to the thrill of whitewater rafting, they can foster a deeper connection to nature and inspire a lifelong love for outdoor adventure.

A group of youth splashes through a rapid while rafting on the Rogue River.
A group of youth with Konaway Nika Tillicum splashes through a rapid while rafting on the Rogue River in Oregon. | Photo by Dylan Silver

“We are so grateful for the rafting trips that our Konaway students have been able to participate in over the past 2 years,” says Katherine Gosnell, who helps organize Konaway Nika Tillicum, a non-profit summer camp for Native youth, which received a free 1-day rafting trip on the Rogue River through the Pam & George Wendt Foundation. “They have been AMAZING, and life affirming for so many of our students, and staff.”


Throughout the company’s 54-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.

In 2023, OARS gave a combined total of over $30,000 in pass-through donations, trips and financial contributions to these organizations: 

In addition, OARS, in partnership with the Pam & George Wendt Foundation, created these opportunities for access to river trips, whitewater training and community fundraising:

  • 3 fully sponsored need-based whitewater guide school scholarships
  • 280 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 Rivers, University of Utah, (Women) Warriors on Cataract, and America Outdoors
  • More than 50 trips for two or more donated to local community non-profits and conservations groups for fundraising

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