2015 Exemplary Service Awards were given to Mike Mills, Mike Cottingham, Greg Henington and George Wendt at the AOA Conference in Salt Lake City. Thanks so much to these industry leaders for their service!
Mike served as President of AOA for six years and has been on the Board of Directors continuously since December 1995. Under his leadership AOA reached new heights as its membership, budget and conference attendance reached new highs. Mike played a critical role during our trips to Washington DC on behalf of outfitters especially during the NPS concessions reform legislation in the 1990’s. Within Arkansas, Mike serves as president of the Buffalo River Foundation, whose mission is to work with landowners to protect sensitive watershed areas that affect the water quality of the Buffalo. He is also in his third term as a member of the Arkansas Parks & Tourism Commission, originally appointed to the commission by Governor Mike Huckabee in 2000. Mike’s company, the Buffalo Outdoor Center, which started as a canoe livery on the Buffalo River in 1976, is now a year around operation with cabins, zip-lines as well as river operations. However, Mike still refers to himself as a “canoe operator”.
It's been almost 30 years since Greg first began introducing people to the wonders of the Rio Grande River and taking them to see its hidden gems. Today, that passion is stronger than ever before, as evidenced by the many ways Far Flung Outdoor Center has created for its guests to discover and enjoy Big Bend. As the result of living in a remote territory, Greg has also studied and developed an expertise in wilderness medicine, which, as a paramedic for Terlingua Fire & EMS, often has him answering medical emergencies in the Big Bend. If all that weren't enough, he hopes to someday author a book or two about America's last frontier Big Bend National Park and its surroundings. Greg served as the President and as Secretary/Treasurer of AOA leading the organization to develop a strategic plan that has greatly improved the organization’s focus and its benefits to its members.
George started OARS in 1969, which was intended to be a weekend-only business but soon became a full time gig. As the founder and president of O.A.R.S., George is a true pioneer in the adventure travel industry. His passion for running rivers was born in the 60s before the inception of his company, when he became one of the first 1,100 people to descend the seldom-traveled Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. In the decades since, O.A.R.S. has positively affected the lives of over 500,000 travelers. George has been a great advocate for the outfitting industry and relentless supporter of America Outdoors Association. In addition to his many other contributions George has donated the proceeds of a full trip to AOA for the past two years to assist in funding government affairs efforts which benefit all of you.
In 1972, as idealistic school teachers from Cincinnati, Mike and Helen were short on financial resources, but they had a strong founding vision and, importantly, the ability to convince others of the priceless value that a summer in the outdoors can have for any teenager. The notion is as true today as it was 40 years ago. With over 20,000 alumni, many of whom hold the top positions in their fields, Mike still believes that connecting teenagers with the outdoors in a way that asks and empowers them to accomplish goals while working and having fun together as a team is the most powerful and consistent way to build young leaders. Mike served on the Board of Directors of America Outdoors Association for ten years. He helped immensely with AOA’s efforts in Washington DC, testified before Congress on behalf of the industry and helped AOA grow its membership. For that reason he is receiving AOA’s Exemplary Service Award.