Tourism is big business in Idaho, and much of the responsibility for that element of our economy lies with the state's outfitters and guides. From May 17-19, a group of about 80 river guides assembled in McCall for something that, in the opinion of many in the industry, was long overdue.
The first Idaho River Rendezvous was an opportunity to educate, collaborate and explore the needs and challenges of Idaho's professional river users. Initially oriented toward guides, outdoor programs, nonprofits, river rangers and advocacy groups, the event is intended to be expanded in the future to include private users and guides from all sectors as a means to increase overall knowledge of Idaho's wild places.
The event was partially organized by the Redside Foundation--a river guide mental and physical health advocacy group--and included conference talks by some of the most prolific people on the water today. During the three-day event, speakers including Cort Conley and Les Bechtel discussed topics ranging from archaeology and Idaho's river history to health and wellness and agency-outfitter relations.
The IRR provides guides with resources to be better at what they do through education on archaeology, history and best practices, as well as free medical services, while making guides more cohesive as a professional group. While the format is educational, all of the guides Boise Weekly spoke to felt they would be able to apply what they learned in their work life in some capacity.
"It bridges the gap between a whole bunch of different companies and different outfitters. It brings us all together in a central location and allows us to do what we do best, and that is to fraternize and enjoy a good time." said attendee Eric Riley.
Many guides have limited financial resources, making the IRR a key tool for them to come together and build their abilities. Redside Foundation Executive Director Brian Chaffin was thrilled at the turnout, and has big hopes for expanding the footprint of future rendezvous.
"It's a venue for us to come together, to network and to build community around river users and the resource itself," he said. "This is an opportunity to go through a personal development program. Healthier, more prepared guides means that the end user of an Idaho river trip gets a better product."
Chaffin expects that this format will only grow with future iterations.
"We'd like to see the private boating community join us. We know as a community of Idaho river users that we're all in this together," he said.