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.
Ruben Perkins: Lodging Manager
Ruben has been around Zoar since he was little. He eventually became a Zip Line Guide in 2015. He also worked as an Assistant Lodging Manger before taking on the Manager position. You'll see most likely see Ruben happily checking in on our guests, zipping through the trees or putting his carpentry skills to use. In his spare time, he may be climbing going to the local Mutton and Mead Festival or hanging out with friends and family.
Jacqui Proctor: Sales and Marketing Manager
Jacqui comes from years of sales and marketing experience from working in the art world. She likes to stay involved with our local community and serves on the Marketing Committee and Board for the Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association. Jacqui is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, but quickly fell in love with Western Massachusetts. In her spare time, she loves creating artwork, teaching Ukulele, playing soccer, and SUPin' with her dog, Jake. Jacqui also loves taking on the class III and IV rapids on our Dryway trip! Give our office a call, there's a high percentage you'll speak with Jacqui and she's always up to help you plan your next adventure!
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-Hailey: Canopy Tour Manager
Rachel, a former chef and graduate of Johnson & Wales University, comes to Zoar with a background in guest services and the ropes course industry, as well as a passion for the outdoors after a career shift in 2008. Rachel holds several rock climbing certifications with the AMGA and is an avid climber. She spent her seasons before Zoar leading youth and college adventure programs. As the canopy tour manager, she has taken her love of adventure, experiential learning, and creativity to new heights by overseeing the New Guide and Trip Leader Training programs. Her WFR certification, connection to guests, and attention to detail ensure that Deerfield Valley Canopy Tours run in excellence.
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.