With the recent passing of George Wendt the rivers of the world lost a loving friend and fearless advocate.
I had the pleasure of working with George and his corp of river guides on an O.A.R.S. outfitted journey through the Grand Canyon in 1984. My producing partner, John Lyddon agreed to make a documentary film about the musical journey of the Paul Winter Consort as they rafted the Colorado River. Floating through the desert underworld with five world class musicians was a peak experience that I will never forget.
A significant part of this great memory was the pluck, humor and uber-coolness of the O.A.R.S. river guides. In spite of the challenge of ferrying 12 boats and 30 people down the river for the 18 day trip, the George Wendt crew remained good natured, helpful, and unflappable.
Among the guides was Mark Dubois, the environmental activist who chained himself to a rock in the Stanislaus River in an effort to prevent the flooding of one of the West’s greatest white water runs. George was a founding member of Friends of the River in 1973 which was established to save the Stanislaus River from New Melones Dam. He also helped create the Tuolumne River Trust in 1981 to save the Tuolumne from the Wards Ferry project. That action saved a part of the Tuolumne and led to its designation as a wild and scenic river.
As an advocate for unrestrained, wild rivers, Wendt testified before the Senate Subcommittee on River Preservation, helped found an ecotourism operation in Fiji, and donated time and trips to support youth and community organizations around the country.
In 2010, Sally and I moved to Calaveras County, home of the Stanislaus River. On the night we closed the purchase of our house we had dinner in Murphys and who should walk through the door but George’s son, Tyler. It was one of the many coincidences that made Sally and I realized we had moved to the right place.
George’s tireless and passionate defense of California Rivers will never be forgotten.
He is a hero for the planet.
With Love and Respect,
David Vassar and Sally Kaplan