The Curious History of the All-Outdoors River Center

Posted September 13, 2023 by Lenka Bostian

The All-Outdoors River Center in Lotus welcomes thousands of rafters each year. This riverfront location is the meet place for our rafting trips on the South Fork of the American River, including the Tom Sawyer Float Trip on the Easy Section. During the springtime, guests rafting on the North Fork American also meet here for their river trip.

This property, acquired by All-Outdoors in 2000, is the main operations hub for all of our 10 California Rivers. Long gone are the days when AO founder George Armstrong’s wife Dolores packed rafting trip food in their Bay Area home kitchen and reservations were taken in the playhouse (aka the “dollhouse”) that George had built in the backyard. 

The River Center buzzes with life during the spring, summer, and fall months as buses, trucks loaded with rafts, and guides seem to be in constant motion. Our food room staff outputs cooler after cooler filled with delicious fresh food carefully packed for hungry rafters. During the wintertime, vehicles and other equipment may be in hibernation, but the reservations office keeps busy year-round. Let us share with you some interesting things about our riverfront home that you may not be aware of.

Drone shot of the AO River Center
Wintertime at the AO River Center, nestled between the South Fork American River and Lotus Road.

Lotus, California 95651

As you arrive at the River Center, the first building you may notice from the road looks perhaps a little too official for a river rafting outfitter. Why does it say “LOTUS CALIFORNIA 95651” above the front door? Why is there a flag pole and an ADA accessible parking space by the front door? That is because this building used to house our little town’s US Post Office back in the day. We still occasionally get old-timers looking to mail their checks from here, but alas, the postmaster has moved on to the current PO location on the other side of the river. Surprisingly, a rafting company can find very good use of the looong work counter, the large key hook board, and all those little cubby shelves on the wall. 

Note that this admin building is the workplace of our friendly California Rafting Consultants and it’s not the actual meeting spot for our river trips. If you do happen to pop in accidentally, they will happily point you one driveway over where you can park and meet your river guides.

The old Lotus, CA Post Office
The AO admin building – a post office back in the day – sits next to the meet place for our rafting trips (the driveway next to this one).

Environmentally Friendly Landscaping and Construction

Once you park your car, take a look around the large gravel parking lot and at the bathrooms & changing areas in the middle. This carefully planned area was not always as refined as it is these days. The land that stretches from Lotus Road down to the river was not developed until it became the put-in and take-out location for All-Outdoors. The improvements took several years and many road trips all over California to old barns scheduled for demolition to salvage wood and other construction materials. Our goal was not only to build bathrooms and a parking lot for our guests, but also to showcase alternative and conservation-driven construction and landscaping.

Construction of the parking lot and the bathrooms took place in 2005-2006.

You may notice the railroad ties collected up in Donner Pass delineating the lot, the reclaimed wood and repurposed corrugated metal used on the bathroom building and changing areas, or the drought-tolerant native plants throughout the whole property. This project was a massive hands-on effort that involved many of our guides and staff members. Every aspect of the development of this property has been guided by a desire to respect the integrity of the valley, to use recycled materials, and to invest in something beautiful, durable, and useful.

Bath house built with reclaimed materials.
The same vantage point as the image above (notice the tall trees?), but nearly 20 years later.

The Strawbale Building Story

Guests meeting for their rafting trip at our River Center certainly notice the small, interesting-looking building hiding under the mighty branches of old-growth oaks when checking in. What’s up with those rough, uneven walls, and what about that straw peeking through the glass window? 

It all started in the early 2000’s when a few All-Outdoors guides learned about sustainable living technologies at a festival in Northern California. They brought the idea of eco-friendly construction back to Lotus where the newly acquired AO property was just being developed into a meeting place for our South Fork rafting trips.

Strawbale construction
Although sometimes resembling a kids’ dream play date (mud and building with blocks), the strawbale construction is no child’s play.

There is a lot of talent within the AO family that extends beyond whitewater navigation, so it’s no surprise the design, plans, and framing all came from within. This conventional method of construction soon turned unconventional when some unusual building materials entered the stage: rice straw blocks, bamboo, and lots of mud! Teaming up with experts from the Solar Living Institute, AO organized a workshop for our staff and other community members interested in non-traditional ways of building right on our riverside property. The result? A lot of newfound knowledge and a groovy, eco-friendly strawbale house to meet our guests in.

Guest Check In / Store
Guests checking in for their rafting trip can see the building material through the circular “truth window”.

Oaks That Remember the Gold Rush

The strawbale house, along with the picnic benches and the amphitheater seating in front of it (made with wood that used to be a barn one hundred years ago) benefit from the all-day shade provided by the magnificent oaks. These trees were seedlings when the forty-niners trampled this very land in search of gold during the California Gold Rush. We take taking care of these giants seriously and do our best to keep them healthy for a long time to come.

Natural Ampitheater
One of the beloved oaks had to be cut down due to decay, but others are standing tall and strong.

We are proud of this serene setting as the starting and ending point of our guests’ time with us on the river. It is a constant work in progress (hence the piles of reclaimed wood waiting for their chance of a second life), but it’s a labor of love. We look forward to welcoming you at the All-Outdoors River Center soon!

Author Bio

Lenka Bostian

Lenka started working for All-Outdoors in the summer of 2005 when she followed her heart from her native Czech Republic out to California. After graduating college in Prague, she packed up her degree in International Business and moved across the pond for good. She’s been part of the AO family ever since, wearing different hats along the way. Besides trail running, tennis, and traveling, Lenka enjoys rafting and camping on the South Fork with her hubby (former AO guide) and their twin boys.


Back to Top

Email Newsletter

Get season updates, latest rafting videos & blogs, plus enter to Win a Free Trip for Two! Learn more

Manage My Reservation