Berkshire East buys Zoar Outdoor

  • Berkshire East base lodge in Charlemont. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Berkshire East ski area in Charlemont. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Berkshire East ski area in Charlemont. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Berkshire East base lodge in Charlemont. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/1/2020 11:29:44 PM

CHARLEMONT — Zoar Outdoor, the Charlemont-based outdoor recreation company, has been bought by Berkshire East Mountain Resort. The deal closed Tuesday at an undisclosed price.

By all outward appearances, the two companies will not change. Each will maintain its own distinct branding, and each will continue to offer the same menu of activities, managers at Zoar said. The two companies now have competing programs in whitewater rafting and zip-lining, but even these will be unaffected.

“I think it will still be Zoar,” said Zoar co-owner and co-founder Bruce Lessels.

The sale was publicized in a press release Thursday. Managers at Berkshire East were unavailable to comment. Berkshire East CEO Jon Schaefer could not be reached by phone.

Lessels said that he and his wife and co-owner Karen Blom are “semi-retired,” but will keep some ownership stake in Zoar.

Management of Zoar will be handled by Kevin McMillan, who has worked for the company for 28 years, most recently as the director of guided programs. The rest of Zoar’s management structure is unchanged, McMillan said.

Zoar employs about 150 people in the summer season, nearly half of them for its whitewater rafting program, McMillan said. Zoar also offers programs in kayaking, zip-lining, camping and lodging.

Much of Zoar’s business comes from tourists from the Boston and New York City areas who visit for one to three days at a time, McMillan said. Zoar’s location is within walking distance of restaurants in Charlemont and Berkshire East, and Shelburne Falls is easily accessible by car.

“You could really park here and not get in your car until you go home,” McMillan said.

Zoar was founded in 1989 by Lessels and Blom. The dams on the Deerfield River had recently renewed their operation licenses, guaranteeing an always-consistent river flow for the foreseeable future, Lessels said — perfect for a rafting company.

Originally, the company offered whitewater rafting and kayaking and canoeing lessons. There was also a cross-country skiing program in the winter, but that only lasted one year, Lessels said.

Zoar added programs as it saw opportunities and demand, he said. The zip-line course, added in 2009, is the latest addition. More recently, the company has made efforts to become more diverse in its hiring, McMillan said.

In the negotiation of the sale, Berkshire East was always interested in continuing Zoar and in maintaining a distinction between the two companies, Lessels said. He and Blom wanted the company to continue, but were ready to retire, he said.

“We loved doing it, and we still love the company. We hope to keep a connection there. But we are getting into our 60s, and we wanted to see it have a positive transition,” Lessels said. “We feel like that’s something this achieves really well.”

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