A homegrown Jackson water sports business has beaten out an incumbent concessionaire to win a contract to guide multiday kayak trips on Jackson Lake.
Grand Teton National Park announced Thursday that Rendezvous River Sports, owned by Aaron Pruzan, will take the place of OARS West, a California outfit that runs trips around the country.
“We are super, super excited about this,” Pruzan said.
The contract will run from 2020 to 2029.
For two decades, Pruzan said, the lone contract for leading overnight trips on the impounded park lake seemed out of reach, because the concessionaire was offered a “right of preference” by the National Park Service to retain the contract. Incumbent businesses making less than $500,000 a year are first in line to retain permits, but only if they submit proposals that are “responsive” to business prospectuses released by the agency.
When Grand Teton solicited applications for the next decade’s contract early this year, OARS had lost its preferred status. It even appealed its lost status, but wasn’t successful, Pruzan said.
“I put a huge amount of effort into that proposal,” Pruzan said, “because it wasn’t necessarily worth the effort if there was still a preferred offerer who could just take it.”
Pruzan said he has no ill will toward OARS and hopes for a smooth transition. He described the business’ late founder, George Wendt, as a globally renowned icon of the river outfitting industry.
The National Park Service’s regional commercial service’s chief, Jennifer Parker, said in a statement that it was a “very competitive” contract. Applicants heightened the bar for resource protections and the quality of the visitor experience.
Rendezvous’ new contract authorizes only multiday trips on Jackson Lake, though lake floats can and will be combined with floats down the Snake River, Pruzan said. Additionally, it comes with the right for exclusive access to three backcountry campsites at Grassy Island, near Spalding Bay and near Colter Bay. Guests will be guided on side hikes during trips, he said.
Pruzan said he’s mulling the possibility of offering Jackson Lake circumnavigation trips, a kind of trip he has been running on Yellowstone Lake since the mid-1990s.
OARS West has also been a guiding concessionaire at Yellowstone Lake. In one particularly tragic and high-profile incident, first-year guide Timothy Conant died of hypothermia in June 2017 after his vessel overturned while rescuing a capsized kayaker. In the aftermath, the Wyoming Occupational Health and Safety Administration cited OARS for eight violations and the company updated its safety protocols.