The Zoar Outdoor Management Team
Zoar Outdoor was established in 1989 to offer outdoor adventures in the Deerfield River Valley and beyond. Our staff of over 100 consists of friendly professionals from all walks of life ranging in age from 18 - 65 years. Many of our staff are cross-trained in several areas, enabling them to work as a raft guide, kayak instructor or climbing teacher. It is not uncommon to find a high school math teacher, a nurse or a lawyer guiding one of our rafts or teaching in a kayak. The versatility of our team members allows our staff to provide excellent service to our guests and to make each Zoar Outdoor adventure truly memorable.
Bruce Lessels, President, and Karen Blom, Vice President
Bruce and Karen opened Zoar Outdoor in 1989 to introduce people with an adventurous spirit to the incredible rivers and mountains of southern New England. In the years since, they have expanded Zoar Outdoor’s offerings and facilities, but kept their focus on serving guests in a friendly atmosphere that allows the Zoar team to accommodate a variety of people in the many programs Zoar offers.
Before starting Zoar Outdoor, Bruce was a member of the U.S. Whitewater Team and won the bronze medal in C-1 at the 1987 World Whitewater Championships in France and Karen worked as a public health nutritionist. They have both served as board members of the Deerfield River Watershed Association, the US Canoe & Kayak Team and New England FLOW. Bruce is past chair of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce board of directors and Karen is past President of the Shelburne Falls Area Business Association. Both Bruce and Karen are ACA certified canoe and kayak instructors. Bruce has written several whitewater books for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) including The Whitewater Handbook, an excellent source of whitewater technique information for all levels of canoe and kayak paddlers and Classic Northeastern Whitewater Guide, a comprehensive guide to the best whitewater runs in the northeast region for novices to experts. Bruce and Karen co-authored a book in 2002 for the AMC entitled Paddling With Kids.
At Zoar Outdoor, Bruce is in charge of overall operations, marketing, finance, and business development and Karen is responsible for human resources, special events and public relations.
Janet Burnett Cowie: Director of Paddlesport Programs
Janet oversees our Outfitters Shop and instruction programs including whitewater kayaking, canoeing and rock climbing. She is also our logistics guru for food services and vehicles. Since 1996, Janet's people skills and expertise have helped grow our paddling school into one of the premier kayak programs in the country. Janet has been whitewater paddling since 1983, when she joined the University of Massachusetts Outing Club.
Janet is an ACA Level 4 Whitewater Kayak Instructor Trainer Educator, Level 4 River Canoe Instructor/Level 3 River Canoe Instructor Trainer and Advanced Swiftwater Rescue Instructor. In 2011 Janet received ACA's Excellence in Instruction Award. She helped to organize the first Whitewater Symposium at Zoar Outdoor in 2003 and again in 2009, and continues to be involved with the Whitewater Symposium movement. She received her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts.
Kevin McMillan: Director of Guided Programs
Kevin has been guiding and trip leading for Zoar Outdoor since 1992 and oversees our rafting and livery programs and canopy course. Before coming to Zoar, he worked for several years as an experiential educator with regional schools and as a technical specialist with corporate programs. Kevin was the 1996 recipient of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism Hospitality Award. His quick wit and excellent people skills combined with his extensive knowledge of the rivers we raft and river rescue techniques ensure that our guests are in good hands when rafting with Zoar Outdoor. Kevin is an ACA river rescue instructor and is a Wilderness First Responder.
Philip May: Lodging Manager
Philip has been a raft guide since 1997 and became our lodging manager in 2004. His British sense of humor and accent work well for him in his role as innkeeper and campground host. When he is not greeting overnight guests, he may be kayaking for pleasure, steering a raft down the advanced section of the river or putting his carpentry skills to use on maintenance projects around the property. Philip received the Mass Office of Travel and Tourism Hospitatlity Award in 2005.
Adriana Isaza: Sales and Marketing Manager
Adriana joined the Zoar team in 2009 as a Zip Line Canopy Tour guide. After several years guiding in the trees and on the river, she shifted to her position in sales and marketing. She enjoys the dynamic environment of Zoar and loves helping people explore their limits and discover outdoor adventure. When not in the office handling group reservations, writing articles or working on the website, you'll find her outside in a kayak, rock climbing or skiing.
Brian Pytko: Rafting Manager
A former high school social studies teacher and baseball coach, Brian started rafting with Zoar Outdoor back in 2000, and took over the Rafting Manager responsibilities in 2009. Forever a teacher at heart, Brian oversees new guide training and development, is an ACA swift water rescue instructor, and even does a little snowboard instructing during the off-season. Brian’s Wilderness First Responder Certification, intuitive river sense, dedication to customer service, and uncanny attention to detail ensures that Zoar’s rafting trips and guided kayaking trips run smoothly and safely.
Rachel Maestri: Canopy Tour Manager
Rachel comes to Zoar with a background in the ropes course industry and a passion for the outdoors.
Jim Sullivan: Paddlesports Manager
Jim has been paddling the rivers of New England since learning to kayak as a teen near Springfield, Massachusetts. He is an avid river runner, playboater and all around paddler and has run every rapid on the Dryway on a standup paddleboard (upright) at least once! He works closely with Janet Cowie providing leadership in our Paddlesports programs.