Every year, amidst the roaring rivers, sunlit trails, and crackling campfires of the NOC, emerge individuals who aren’t just guides but legends in their own right. They are the heartbeats behind the unforgettable adventures, the storytellers who make every trip a tale worth recounting, and the inspiring forces that amplify the spirit of outdoor exploration. This year, we’re over the moon to celebrate these extraordinary souls who’ve made 2023 nothing short of spectacular. Paddle on to our shining stars’ incredible stories – our Guides of the Year for 2023! Next time you see one of these excellent guides, give them a high five and a big congratulations!
2023 Guide Of the Year Recipients
Central Reservations guide – William Cunningham
William has been a part of NOC’s Reservations team since 2019. Will has been a critical contributor to their success this season and has seamlessly put in the extra work needed to step up into a role as our Reservation Supervisor mid-season! In nominations from his CRO peers, Will is noted for his calm, kind demeanor and extensive knowledge of NOC practices, policies, and industry trends. Putting service before himself and leading by example are Will’s strong suits. He is always available to support his team members with their questions and guests’ concerns at the drop of a dime. Will has provided exemplary guest service and support to managers across the company far and wide all season as we have navigated the challenges that a rainy summer has brought to the NOC. Whether helping support a teammate with a booking or policy question or helping provide a guest experience to someone in need, Will represents the best NOC offers and deserves the Guide of the Year!
Chattahoochee Roswell guide – Karina Torres
Karina is in her second year with NOC Roswell. She is always at work, giving it her all from the start to the end of every workday. She excels at problem-solving customer service and is a machine at carrying large kayaks in the hot sun. She can work any job within the Roswell structure and always performs well. Her work ethic and positive attitude help motivate employees around her and make the river experience enjoyable for every guest she puts on the Chattahoochee.
Chattahoochee Metro guide – Murphy Hasling
Murphy has continuously shown he is a leader by going above and beyond in every aspect of the guide position. As a first-year guide, Murphy has demonstrated fantastic customer service skills and regularly gets good reviews about how helpful and knowledgeable of this river he is. Other staff members look to him to see what they should do, and he is always happy to assist other guides. Murphy is an avid outdoors lover and loves mountain bike riding, climbing, and boating, and he shares that joy with his guests.
Pigeon guide – Noah Bryant
Noah displays and exemplifies all NOC core values daily and is a vital and irreplaceable team member. He consistently steps up to fill roles that we need, whether as a Trip Leader, guide, or community member and exceeds at them even when given less-than-ideal conditions. He is humble about his abilities and has one of the best work ethics of anyone on our staff. He is a reliable, exceptional coworker and teammate on and off the water. He constantly shows up with a levelheaded attitude and makes the best of any situation. He gives 100% during the workday; in his free time, he learns new things and grows as a boater.
Chattooga guide – Robert Kirk
Over his 19 seasons as a guide on the Chattooga for the NOC, Robert has exemplified the ‘make it happen’ and ‘lead by example’ core values. Throughout the seasons, he has always been ready to do whatever it takes to get the job done, whether it’s coordinating the Chattooga overnight trips, maintaining the landscaping around the outpost store, the outpost infrastructure, delivering NOC brochures to local businesses, taking his chainsaw to remove trees that have fallen and blocked the put-in/take-out roads, giving new (and old) guides valuable advice on how to run the rapids on the Chattooga successfully, and having the tough and soft skills to provide a safe and fun trip on the river for any type/personality of the guest. He does all these things with a great, positive attitude! Exhibiting a combination of ‘work hard, play hard’ and ‘service before self,’ he always has a cooler full of truck snacks (beer and bubbly waters for those who don’t or are too young to drink) that he offers generously after work to all his little buddies (he considers everyone at the Outpost his little buddies). Then, they will sit on the cookhouse’s front porch and talk about life, their day on the river, or whatever comes up. He always has excellent advice to give on either subject!
Ocoee guide – Dakotah Dolittle
Dakotah’s strengths are not limited to just navigating the waters on the Ocoee; it extends to every interaction he has, both on the riverbanks and beyond. With a natural ability to connect with people, he ensures every guest feels valued and cherished, creating an atmosphere of warmth and inclusivity. His positivity radiates, uplifting everyone at the Outpost and setting the tone for memorable adventures. This energy, combined with his vast knowledge and expertise, makes every trip with Dakotah a unique and unforgettable experience. He takes pride in mentoring younger guides, sharing his wealth of experience, and instilling the same passion and dedication he brings to his craft. Dakotah’s commitment to the job, the community, and his values is evident, making him an outstanding guide and a true ambassador of the NOC spirit.
French Broad guide – Johnny Korte
Johnny is a remarkable guide whose presence is felt and appreciated by everyone at the Outpost. His readiness to assist and consistently upbeat attitude makes him a person of positivity in the workplace. His dedication doesn’t just end with his professional commitments; it also extends into his passions. As a vital team member, Johnny’s contributions go beyond the ordinary. He has an innate ability to navigate and address the unique challenges the French Broad River presents, making him indispensable. His insights, combined with his hands-on approach, have been instrumental in turning potential obstacles into opportunities for growth and learning. In essence, Johnny is not just a team member; he’s a critical part of our operations, and his impact is evident in every successful trip he is on the French Broad River.
RER – Larry Meisner At the beginning of the year, Larry has shown that he is willing to take on new roles at River’s End. He sets an example in training and never asks someone to do something he wouldn’t do himself. He has a keen eye for detail and assists others in understanding the reason behind why we do things in a certain way. He always lends a hand to different areas and prioritizes service over self. He takes charge and ensures things get done when faced with unexpected situations. He consistently strives to do what’s best for RER and NOC. Additionally, Larry is known for his ability to unwind and have fun with his coworkers after a hard day’s work. He also loves helping guests with questions about NOC, the river, or the surrounding area. You might recognize Larry from our April Fools’ video or have tried his famous “Larry Cajun Pizza” at Rivers End Restaurant.
Big Wesser guide – Kaili Swanson
Kaili is one of the smiling faces you see every morning when getting your coffee and donuts. When she started work with NOC, she was a teenager. She is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen, with the best attitude! She amazes us every day by her drive and kindness. Although she will be moving on to her new career in nursing, she will always be welcome at NOC. When you hear people talk about Core Values of NOC, she is all of them. She has become a great leader, and those who work with her are always laughing and happy, even when it is challenging. We are thankful for her here and hope she returns next season. Kaili is loved by all who work with her.
Outfitter’s Store guide – Callie Hester
We could give you an example of every one of our Core Values that Callie delivers daily. Still, to keep it simple, Callie is the go-to Outfitter’s Store crew member. She is incredibly kind, driven, and creative, bringing all that into her work. She is always the spearhead for any project or need. She will pick up the extra slack, no matter the situation. She’s grown into a key leader within our team and will be missed by the brain trust as she makes her big Irish move!
SOLO instructor/guide – Tanner Braun
Tanner joined us last fall and has consistently excelled in the classroom. His steady presence and diligent preparation work have made him a favorite among our students and fellow instructors. One guest was so impressed by Tanner’s work that they requested we fly Tanner to St. Louis to teach their entire staff. Tanner has taught classes at every level in both wilderness and emergency medicine. He has become a lead instructor and trains our new instructors. Tanner constantly pushes to give his students the best possible class. We are so pleased to have Tanner on our team and are proud to have him as SOLO’s Instructor of the Year.
Instruction guide – Gil Schweitzer
Gil has been a critical member of the NOC Team since 2004 when he started as a Rookie Bookie in the Guest Relations Office. He moved into the Clinic Prep position and bridged Paddling School bookings in the GRO to the Paddling School operations. In 2018, he moved to be officially a member of the Paddling School Team, where he has, more often than not, been the glue holding logistics together daily. His witty sense of humor and overall “Gilness” is infectious. He is a beloved member of the Paddling School team and NOC.
Nantahala Rafting Guide – Shelby Phelps
Shelby exemplifies every core value. Shelby holds herself to the highest standard, always leading by example. She is regularly taking guides aside and patiently giving critiques. She exemplifies service before herself with the love she pours into staff housing, hoping to make it a better place for future guides. As a leader on and off the clock, she knows the only way to lead effectively and to get others to do the right thing is to lead by example. Shelby works hard, but she plays hard, too. She was running Ladies’ campouts, throwing shindigs, hiking, and running plenty of rivers. She is also always making it happen. Taking 8-packs, jumping in wherever needed, and pushing through to ensure folks go rafting. She has also been an AMAZING help to the new management team at the Nantahala this season. We could not have done it without her.
Aerial Adventures Guide – Zane Martin
Zane is in his second season here at the NOC. Zane has excelled as a lead aerials guide and a mountain bike guide. Zane consistently models excellent risk management and an unwavering positive attitude. Always willing to go above and beyond to help others and “make it happen,” he is an example to other guides of professionalism and hard work. Zane’s dedication and passion for his work are evident in every task he undertakes. His vast knowledge and hands-on approach have made him a go-to figure for rookies and seasoned guides. His commitment to the NOC’s values and his drive to constantly improve has solidified his reputation as a guide, leader, and mentor within the community.
Adventure Center Guide – Amy Shelly
Amy Shelly has been a valuable addition to the Deck team. She is a “Make it Happen” person, always ready to assist wherever needed to ensure the smooth running of operations. Working with Amy is always a good day; she brings a bright smile and warm laughter and shares her joy with guests and staff. She is always willing to lend a helping hand and has become an indispensable member of the Adventure Center. Amy’s presence has made NOC a better place.
Photos guide – Kolbe Hughes
Kolbe has been a crucial team member of the Photos department for the past three seasons and has gone above and beyond this season to help us reach our departmental goals! He has set an excellent example for all other photographers regarding the quality of photos and guest interactions. He’s always willing to lend a hand with any task that needs to be done. He’ll even move a downed tree in the middle of a lightning storm to get home to his supper, GIGI! Kolbe is supportive of everyone as both friends and coworkers and brings passion and a light-hearted sensibility to his work! He embodies the core value of work hard, play hard!
Sales guide – Michelle Galinak
Michelle returned to NOC, joined the Sales Team in September 2022, and hit the ground running. Michelle has taken the initiative in driving sales, improving the sales process, and collaborating with Marketing and the SOLO Operations team. She leans into supporting the couple – including helping at Women’s Pedal Fest, guiding a lake tour, helping with EMT courses, and heading to the Montgomery Whitewater Center grand opening. She brings positive energy to her work and the Sales Team. Michelle works and plays hard – enjoying pottery and biking outside of work and paddled on our 2023 two-week trip through the Grand Canyon! Ask her about it. She will light up.
Support/HR guide – Sarah Shaqueur
Sarah Shaqueur was a standout this season. Sarah has been able and willing to help with anything HR needs, even if it’s not her wheelhouse. She is always ready to look into something and get back to you and consistently responds promptly. During our Spring onboarding timeline, Sarah was a solid troubleshooter with Managers to rectify issues quickly. Sarah helped a lot of staff and managers avoid significant problems with payroll. She ultimately helped keep the peace in a challenging and tenuous time. Sarah sought several teams to help navigate individual circumstances and their healthcare benefits. Knowing that someone in HR could notice these changes and then take the time to inform the staff made them feel cared for.
Next time you see one of these excellent guides, give them a high five and a big congratulations!