Meet the Stewards

In the transformation of former Rios Tropicales Lodge

Meet the People Behind The Dream

The award-winning Rios Tropicales Lodge reopened in 2022 with a new ownership group led by highly experienced adventure tourism partners -Arturo Oropeza, Justin Rae, Sam Drevo, and Roberto Gallo, the son of Rios Tropicales Co-Founder and conservation pioneer, Rafael Gallo. Together, they attracted additional investors who are an experienced group of paddlers, conservationists, and adventure tourism stewards who all believe that the best could be yet to come. The new stewards purchased the Rios Tropicales Lodge and rainforest property and all Rios Tropicales digital assets in early 2022, under the name Rios Lodge, LLC.  They gave the ecolodge a slightly different name, Rios Lodge, in tribute to Roberto’s father’s legacy while creating space for a fresh, new brand to be born.  Initial investment plans expanding the lodge’s facilities, hydropower system, activities, and conservation projects in the famous Pacuare River ecosystem started in summer 2022. 

Each of these Stewards shares various connections to Conservation & Sustainability, Adventure Tourism, and Rios Tropicales & Rafa Gallo  – check out the people behind the Rios Lodge dream.

The Stewards

Roberto Gallo - Partner

Roberto is based out of Costa Rica, and has grown up his entire life in the banks of the Pacuare River, alongside his dad, Rafa Gallo. His first raft trip down the river was at 2 months old and also learned how to swim in the Pacuare. He started working with Rios Tropicales and his dad at a young age, initially as a safety kayaker and worked up to be a river guide. Later on he got involved in the operations of the company and was dreaming to run the company next to his dad. He got a degree in  civil engineering, focused on the environmental branch, from Penn State University. After working several years abroad, he returned back home and is applying what he has learned into the renewed Rios Lodge company. 

CONSERVATION & SUSTAINABILITY – The conservation virtues his father taught him are the backbone and driving force that Roberto uses in business today.  In 2021, Roberto co-founded Rivers and Forests Alliance (RAFA) a non profit Association in Costa Rica that focuses on the conservation of forests and rivers, especially the Pacuare River, honoring his dad’s name. In 2022, through RAFA, he and the RAFA community partners have been able to plant around 5,000 trees, did the first Conservation Summit in the area, and has created many projects along with the communities of the Pacuare. 

ADVENTURE TOURISM – After his father’s passing in 2021, Roberto was passionate about continuing his father’s legacy by taking the Lodge to the next level with the help of three other amazing partners.  He believes the best is yet to come. This is just the new chapter in a long lasting legacy that began many years ago with Rios Tropicales.

RIOS TROPICALES & RAFAEL GALLO – As Rafa’s son – Roberto grew up literally “in” the Rios Tropicales adventure tourism world, on the river, and sharing his father’s passion for sustainability – in business and in the environment.

Arturo Oropeza - Partner

Born and raised in Mexico City, Arturo moved to Costa Rica in 2000. He is based in Heredia, where he owns and operates Adventure Park, a family business developed on a 100 hectare piece of land dedicated to mountain biking, hiking, camping and trail running with a canopy and rappel tour. It has the only Velosolutions pumptrack in Central America. He is deeply involved in the tourism and conservation community in Costa Rica. Spends most of his free time riding bikes and hiking with his family.
In Cost Rica, at the Ríos Tropicales Lodge, Arturo met his wife Ingrid. They have 2 kids, Alina and Kai.

CONSERVATION & SUSTAINABILITY – Growing up in one of the biggest cities in the world Arturo quickly understood the impact of development in pristine environments, growing up he was able to see amazing natural places where he used to play disappear. Since a very young age he started advocating for conservation through local efforts in communities that he traveled to. Being exposed to indigenous communities through Mexico he learned the value of respecting nature.
Moved to Costa Rica because of the high value of conservation in this country and the possibility to keep on working and impacting on a positive way, through tourism, the lives of people to create consciousness and awareness for conservation.

ADVENTURE TOURISM – In his early 20’s he got involved in adventure tourism working and helping  to grow the biggest adventure travel company in Mexico City, “Rio y Montaña”. While working with this company he learned the value of engagement and the bond adventure tourism created for people with nature. You protect more efficiently what you love, and adventure tourism is the tool that sparks that love for nature taking you to incredible places that you would not be able to interact with otherwise.

Arturo has dedicated his life to Adventure tourism through activities like climbing, kayaking, rafting, mountain biking and hiking. Developing tours in many destinations of Latin America.

RIOS TROPICALES & RAFAEL GALLO – In 1999 Rafael Gallo organized the Latin American rafting championship. Arturo was part of the Mexican team that qualified to this competition. After securing a 2nd place he decided to stay for a month on an invitation made by Rafa. After a mon5 of traveling through the country and falling in love with the Pacuare river a job opportunity  presented with Ríos Tropicales. Through this job a close friendship started with Rafa and his family that still lasts to this day.
In 2002 Rios Tropicales gave Arturo and his partner at the time, Leo, the very first franchise that was created for a rafting company in Costa Rica. Ríos Tropicales started operating through H2O Adventures in the Central Pacific town of Manuel Antonio.

When Rafa decided to sell the Rios Tropicales Lodge and properties, Arturo saw an opportunity to help out and repay Rafa for all his help as mentor and friend. Reaching out to his life long friend and parter Sam Drevo, who put him in touch again with Justin Rae, the three of them started working on creating a partnership to keep the lodge on the right hands to continue the legacy of conservation and stewardship that Rafa had started more than 30 years ago.
Roberto Gallo, Rafa’s youngest son, was a fundamental part of keeping this legacy in place, and became the 4th musketeer on an amazing management team for a project that in keeping with Rafa’s vision, involves the Gallo-Jimenez properties and the neighboring properties of the lodge in the biggest private owned conservation area on the Pacuare River Gorge.

Sam Drevo - Partner

Sam is based in Oregon City, Oregon, where he co-owns and operates eNRG Kayaking. eNRG Kayaking is a kayak school / raft company that runs flatwater and whitewater trips and classes, multi-day trips, and specialized training programs. Sam has successfully guided over 35 international trips in 25 countries and LOVES Costa Rica. He also sits on the board of We Love Clean Rivers 501c3, and dedicates a lot of his time to organizing river cleanups and helping disadvantaged groups experience the therapeutic benefits of paddling.

CONSERVATION & SUSTAINABILITY – Sam had an early eye for improving the environment where spent so much time in (the river). He first organized a strategic partnership between American Whitewater, Patagonia, and the Lewis and Clark Paddling Club to do a river cleanup on the Willamette River. Then after founding eNRG Kayaking after graduating college, he started the Clackamas River Cleanup. Five years later he incorporated it into a 501c3, and We Love Clean Rivers Inc. was born: “Turning Recreation into Restoration.” WLCR has engaged thousands of volunteers and pulled over 10 tons of trash out of the river. After the labor day fires of 2020 and all the subsequent overboard “hazard tree” logging in his favorite watersheds / riparean zones in Oregon, Sam has become even more interested restoration and reforestation.

ADVENTURE TOURISM – Since his early days on the US Canoe and Kayak Jr/Sr team, and adult years competing internationally in ocean surfing, freestyle, extreme racing (winning the Gorge Games- Outdoor World Championships in 2001 at age 26), Sam had a lot of early exposure to world class canoe/kayak coaching, and international travel. Sam married his love for photography and videography with his passion for paddling, and participated in and or produced many expedition documentaries about his travels and trips to remote corners of the world. He was invited to be on the Clackamas County Tourism board (the largest geographic county in Oregon) and termed out in 2020 after six years of service. Sam has a deep knowledge of the role of outdoor recreation and in the tourism economy, and continues to operate a business and consult in the river tourism sector today.

RIOS TROPICALES & RAFAEL GALLO
Sam first paddled past the Rios Tropicales lodge on the Pacuare River in the mid 90s, and started staying there with groups in the early 2000s. The Lodge is nestled in one of the most majestic/remote and beautiful parts of Costa Rica, and is one of the most amazing lodges he has ever experienced. After Rafa’s passing, Sam got the message that the family needed help protecting this place, and once he met Roberto and his fmaily, he realized this multi-generational legacy could continue if the conservation property and the Lodge property were purchased. It was also an opportunity to reconnect with a conservation (and reforestation) mission, his long time Costa Rican business partner- Arturo Oropeza, and work with Justin Rae (and a great group of investors) to build & operate the lodge for the next generation.

Sam last saw Rafa Gallo at the 2016 World Rafting Championships in Abu Dhabi where he was part of Team USA and won a silver and bronze medal (in the downriver & overall). As a founder of the International Rafting Federation, Rafa also worked to offset the entire event’s carbon footprint with a tree planting on his property. Sam was able to see this planting when we came back to visit in the fall of 2020 and was amazed at how fast the trees grew (it already looked like a forest)! Sam’s admiration for Rafa’s work with Rios Tropicales and his impact not only in Costa Rica, but world wide through the IRF, America Outdoors, and ATTA is one he is excited to help propagate into and for the next generation.

Justin Rae - Partner

Justin is based out of Bend, OR and was lucky to start his outdoor apprenticeship as a professional river guide working throughout most of the United States, Central and South America for close to two decades. He inevitably stumbled upon full time employment and has been thoroughly immersed in the start-up/entrepreneurship world. He spends his time running international river trips through ENRG Kayaking, advising and mentoring outdoor industry companies in the nations’ first Outdoor Industry Business Accelerator – Bend Outdoor Worx, works with entrepreneurs and interesting individuals throughout the world at his wealth management business Northline Wealth Management, sits on the board of the Bend Paddle Trail Alliance, and chases his two kids through the Oregon outback.

CONSERVATION & SUSTAINABILITY – I don’t think that you can have conservation and environmental sustainability without outdoor recreation. People will not save things that they don’t experience, feel, believe and marvel in. As our world is rapidly being degraded and destroyed in the name of progress, it is even more paramount to protect truly unique places like the Rios Lodge and the Pacuare River watershed.

ADVENTURE TOURISM – I have always seen adventure tourism as a foundational tenant behind conservation. Through my first experience in college through my recent experience in Argentina, adventure tourism allows me to connect to the world around me in a deeply intimate way that can not be replicated outside nature. It is my hope that everyone can experience the joy and magic of this intimate connection.

RIOS TROPICALES & RAFAEL GALLO – Rios Tropicales was the pinnacle of raft outfitters back in the early 2000s – and Rafa Gallo was a larger than life personality in the river world then and now, even after his passing. His work has intersected my life throughout the previous decades through guides he has trained, waterways he has protected, the Rios Lodge that he built, and the intimate relationships he has made. I believe that it was really only a matter of time before I arrived back on the Pacuare River somehow connected with Rafa Gallo and his myriad connections.

I believe in the importance of connection and supporting dreams. I have paddled the Pacuare River decades ago and almost worked as a river guide for Rios Tropicales and Rafa Gallo. Rafa’s dream was evident back then and the opportunity to help preserve and leverage this legacy for future generations was inspirational to me. This was an opportunity to protect not only a rich biodiverse watershed but help steward one of the most amazing whitewater river runs of the world. I have always brought fellow co-conspirators into these opportunities and the community that has coalesced around this has been truly unique.

Christie Dobson

I am an ex-professional kayaker and have worked in the outdoor industry for over 25 years. I reside in Bend Oregon and spend a lot of time in Asheville NC and Chattanooga TN – where I am originally from. Although I never met Rafa, I was always aware of his conservation efforts and I am thrilled to help his legacy live on.

CONSERVATION & SUSTAINABILITY – Having been a kayaker for years, I have seen the devastation first hand of what happens when an area is not protected. I have also seen the outcome of what happens when we work together for sustainability. It’s my hope that Rios Lodge will encourage others to not only protect this area of Costa Rica, but that people will go home and protect places in their backyard too.

ADVENTURE TOURISM – I believe adventure tourism is a great way to not only protect regions, but expose them in a way that helps to educate people on how to do it. It’s my hope that they take these skills and experiences home and share with others. I’ve seen where adventure tourism not only changes the lives of the people in the area, but influences generations to come.

RIOS TROPICALES & RAFAEL GALLO – Although I never met Rafa and I have not yet been to the lodge, I have heard about it for years; and am very aware of the work Rafa has done. I am honored to be a part of this project and I hope that it influences others to protect and save these delicate and amazing areas.

Kurt Doettger

I’m Operations Manager at eNRG Kayaking, a paddlesports adventure company in Oregon City, OR. I spend most of my time in Portland, OR with my sons, and enjoy off season time in Bryson City, NC.

CONSERVATION & SUSTAINABILITY – While I always try to approach travel and living with a sustainability ethos, this project is a unique opportunity to directly support focused sustainability & conservation programs. It makes me really happy to be a part of Rios Tropicales Eco Lodge, and put some of my savings into a business that is vested in preserving the Costa Rican rainforest.

ADVENTURE TOURISM – I started paddling at an early age, and after college moved to North Carolina and worked for Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) for 17 years in many roles from guide to management. After supporting my family in moves to Egypt and Ethiopia, I have spent the last 5 years working for eNRG Kayaking.

RIOS TROPICALES & RAFAEL GALLO – I met Rafa when I was competing on an NOC team in Project Raft, the 1989 Chuya Raft Rally in Russia. The. next year we connected in North Carolina when he brought a Costa Rican team to compete in Project Raft’s Nantahala Rally in 1990. I remember his team being so full of energy; later I realized how important to river conservation he had become in Costa Rica.  I am excited to help continue his legacy.

Alice Hill

I’m Alice Hill, a river lover and mountain hydrologist born and raised in the US but now based on the South Island of New Zealand. My love for rivers was seeded as a fresh-faced 18 year old raft guide in Colorado, which then fed into years of guiding and chasing rivers across the western US, Chile, Tasmania, India … and so on. 

CONSERVATION & SUSTAINABILITY – At the core of the Rios Tropicales Lodge project are two of my most important values: conservation and community. For me this opportunity brings full circle a life thread that started decades earlier, and it allows me to join my river community in continuing to protect this world class river corridor while also providing diverse opportunities for others to explore, know, and love it.

ADVENTURE TOURISM – Ever since that first season on the Arkansas River in Colorado, my friendship with rivers has shaped my life path. I research snow, ice, mountain rivers, and the water supply systems they affect downstream, all in the context of a rapidly changing world.  I am the scientist behind helping the adventure tourism industry understand environmental conditions and impacts.

RIOS TROPICALES & RAFAEL GALLO – Initially inspired to be the voice of rivers threatened by dams, and straight out of university in 2002, I received a year-long travel fellowship to study river development decisions and through that I found my way to Costa Rica, the movement to conserve the Pacuare, and to Rafa Gallo’s office. Fast forward 20 years, and I’m still in the business of conservation of our planet’s natural water resources. 

Rachel Hill

I am a landscape architect that has worked in public open space and recreation design in countries all over the world. My love of rivers started when I worked as a whitewater river guide in California, West Virginia, Guatemala and Costa Rica. My passion for ecological conservation and open space preservation continues in my work for Oregon State Parks and the US Forest Service.

CONSERVATION & SUSTAINABILITY – These ethics are the backbone of every project I work on, influencing design and how it impacts communities and geographies. When people understand the ecology that they live in and are a part of, they care about sustaining and preserving it. When they interact with it and love it, they protect it.

ADVENTURE TOURISM – I worked as a river guide in my 20s which opened doors to unique adventures around the world – not simply rivers but access into other landscapes and cultures. I made my career in designing access and experiences on trails and in parks and open space. These are the ‘gateway’ moments, often, to creating a relationship and stewardship to nature for many. Likewise, these experiences shape how I interact with wilderness and how I find joy.

RIOS TROPICALES & RAFAEL GALLO – One winter I slept on a porch in Turialba, Costa Rica, and rafted and kayaked the rivers in the region, centered around Rios Tropicales. I never met Rafa, but he is a character of legend in that area.

Joe Jacobi

I am an Olympic Gold Medalist in Canoe Slalom, Performance Coach, and Author living in the La Seu d’Urgell, Catalunya. I am thrilled to be a part of this resourceful and innovative team that creates beautiful and purposeful Costa Rican adventures for active travelers as Rafa did for me many years ago.

CONSERVATION & SUSTAINABILITY – I believe helping people to be more active in nature creates more interest in and passion for nature. Deeper discovery and exploration of our relationships with the outdoors are critical components to my writing, coaching, and adventure-based programs and ultimately experiencing a more fully engage life!

ADVENTURE TOURISM – A major part of my involvement with the Rios Lodge was the opportunity to collaborate with Payson Kennedy, a co-founder of the Nantahala Outdoor Center and a pioneer in creating adventure experiences that promote health, connection, and awareness in a way that keep people coming back for more. I absolutely believe that joining Payson as a “Teammate” at this stage in our lives will create positive effect on the world.

RIOS TROPICALES & RAFAEL GALLO – Two interesting connections to Rafa… First, Rafa did an amazing job organizing and hosting our pre-Olympic Training Camps on the Reventazon River near Turrialba in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Never did I see so many different international athletes build so much friendship, healthy competition, and competitive legacy than the Costa Rica camps that Rafa put together. Second, as I look out of my window overlooking the 1992 Olympic canoeing park in La Seu d’Urgell where Scott Strausbaugh and I won a gold medal for the United States, I am looking at the venue in which Rafa experienced a wonderful Olympic moment as the coach of the Costa Rican Olympic Canoe Slalom Team.

Payson Kennedy

I’m one of the founders of the Nantahala Outdoor Center and have worked there in various capacities including, President, CEO, Chairman of the Board, raft guide, adventure travel trip leader canoeing instructor, dish washer and many other jobs required to keep the NOC operating. I’m currently retired and enjoying bicycling and moving mud to create an island in my pond.  I am pleased to be able to support Rafa’s conservation and adventure ecotourism legacy through investing in the new Rios Lodge.

CONSERVATION & SUSTAINABILITY – My connection to conservation and sustainability is simply embodied in how I have tried to live my life. I have always tried to be thoughtful about my own habits in connection with these goals and trying to be sure that the NOC was thoughtful about our role and responsibilities in this regard.

ADVENTURE TOURISM – I encouraged the development of the NOC’s adventure travel program and for many years I led NOC adventure travel trips to Central America, Nepal and the Cayman Islands. NOC was the early supporter of a young Rafa to create a Costa Rica rafting company, and we used Rios Tropicales as our partner there for our Costa Rica adventure travel trips. 

RIOS TROPICALES & RAFAEL GALLO – I met Rafa when he was a student at a university in western Tennessee and a raft guide on the Nolichucky River. We continued a friendship as participants in EPRO and in Project RAFT international rafting competitions. Rafa came to NOC for Project RAFT’s 1990 Nantahala Rally, and I went to Costa Rica in 1991 to participate in Project RAFT’s Costa Rica Rally. Rafa and Rios Tropicales hosted that rafting competition. On my visits to Costa Rica, I always enjoyed spending time with Rafa and working with his team at Rios Tropicales.  

Julie Thorner

I am the founder of Liquid Spark, an adventure tourism marketing agency. I split my time between Bryson City, NC and Bozeman, MT. I am thrilled to participate in continuing and expanding Rafa’s conservation and ecotourism legacy in Costa Rica.

CONSERVATION & SUSTAINABILITY – I believe these are principle values that every organization can and must get behind with meaningful action – whether through leading their own programs or funding others’ initiatives, or both. My agency is a 1% for the Planet member and we coach our clients on how to make sustainability real in their companies.

ADVENTURE TOURISM – It’s pretty much been my career, with stints in Wall Street banking and Main Street retail not withstanding. I have more than 3 decades experience as outdoor guide, marketer, retailer, and senior executive working with many adventure companies in the US and abroad. My adventure tourism marketing agency, Liquid Spark has been serving premier USA and international adventure companies since 2007.  We are really excited to lead marketing for Rios Lodge.

RIOS TROPICALES & RAFAEL GALLO – I met Rafa in the late 1980s working for Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), and then worked directly with him supporting PR and marketing for Rios Tropicales from 2008-2015, with a return to support the company and family in 2020-2021. Rafa’s conservation leadership is the reason my agency became a 1% for the Planet member.  Being on the Rios Lodge team leading marketing is an awesome way to bring Rafa’s dreams full circle with authentic adventure vacations rooted in conservation and sustainability practices.

 
 

 

James and Tara Zurcher

My wife Tara and I are doing our best to guide our two amazing girls, Raea 8, Josie 5. We live in West Linn, OR and we became involved with Rios Lodge through Justin and Sam. Our backgrounds are in commodities trading and education.

CONSERVATION & SUSTAINABILITY – I love the outdoors and I want my girls to be able to experience the outdoors the same way that I have.  Tara and I love the idea of conserving the rainforest and it’s not every day you get an opportunity to have a direct impact in doing so.

ADVENTURE TOURISM – Love them both! My first international travel experience was in Costa Rica and I fell in love with that country. Since that trip, I’ve always dreamed of being involved with a resort in Costa Rica.

RIOS TROPICALES & RAFAEL GALLO – This venture is my first connection to the legacy of Rios Tropicales and Rafa.

More Bios Coming Soon

Ben Corrado
Stephen Junkins
Patrick Kruse
Mary Ann Kruse
Julie Maher
Erik and Deb Nielson
Scott Rice
George Strickland