THE WILD WEST: AMERICA’S INTERSECTION OF CONSERVATION, SUSTAINABILITY AND TOURISM
Putting conservation over profits: Wyoming River Trips
The natural beauty of the Cody Yellowstone region makes it a popular place for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy hiking, whitewater rafting and horseback riding. Taking advantage of the natural environment also comes with the responsibility of protecting it. That is why companies like Wyoming River Trips and Wyoming Rivers Cooperative are going the extra mile to operate as conservation-first businesses.
Owners and spouses Elyse Guarino and Landon Blanchard serve as environmental stewards at the intersection of conservation and recreation with a mission to connect guests to the outdoors on a deeper level than just enjoying a day of rafting.
“People seem to like thinking about the interconnectedness of everything,” said Elyse Guarino, owner of Wyoming River Trips and Wyoming Rivers Cooperative. “I think in general folks enjoy that we have something bigger in mind beyond just doing rad things on rivers.”
Wyoming River Trips offers single day whitewater rafting with options that take advantage of the region’s natural elements and spectacular canyon runs. These trips operate mostly on the North Fork of the Shoshone River and through the Shoshone National Forest. The Wyoming Rivers Cooperative also offers packrafting adventures on various waters throughout Wyoming for a deeper experience in the region’s natural surroundings.
“The rivers we run do offer quite a bit of excitement at varying times of year as the water changes. However, they also offer an immersive experience in some things that are hard to find in our ever more tech and convenience-filled society. Smells, sounds, silence, circumstances that you don’t get to control, sights, creatures, and space to wonder,” said Guarino.
The couple started Wyoming Rivers Cooperative in 2020 with the combined passion of connecting communities to the waterways that run through them. They eventually had an opportunity to purchase Wyoming River Trips, a company started by Blanchard’s father and uncle in 1978. The two companies are now under the same ownership with a primary consideration for the natural environment in which they operate.
“Our goal was to use the established position it [Wyoming River Trips] had in the community to maximize opportunities for beneficial conversation around conservation and to generate ideas about how to create a greater connection to place,” said Guarino.
One of these efforts involves a program called Science Kids utilizing the couple’s expertise, experience, and resources to connect children to their natural world. They do this through river travel float trips and providing hands-on learning about geology, human and plant use history.
Their conservation-minded business model extends to every facet of the company, not just the outward-facing efforts: there is no physical office; the company purchases equipment to last with a priority on upkeep versus replacement; stock in the store is limited; remnant stock elsewhere is purchased to reduce items going to the landfill and there is a focus on selling items made by local creators.
Rafting guides for the company are hired for more than their river and safety knowledge. An emphasis is placed on the personal ethics that guides bring to the job and their passion for connecting guests to a sense of place through their own love of natural history and the environment.Through every effort from the rafting trips on the rivers to business operations, community outreach, and educating guests about protecting these natural surroundings, Wyoming River Trips and Wyoming Rivers Cooperative are putting conservation ahead of profits.
“We aren’t trying to make as much money as possible. There are non-monetary profits to be had and in the long-term they far outweigh short term profits. When it comes to habitat, environments, and ecological conservation and diversity, maintaining or improving those things has long-term benefits for the entire planet,” said Guarino.
Leading by example, immersing, and educating visitors about the region and connecting them to a sense of place goes a long way in igniting their passion to protect it while there and long after they leave.