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New company in Baker City wonders: What's your adventure?


Jef Van Arsdall and his family recently opened Big River Recreation in Baker City. The business rents out stand up paddleboards, inner tubes, fishing poles and countless other items designed to get people out in the great outdoors. “I want people to experience Baker,” Van Arsdall said. (Photo by S. John Collins)

BAKER CITY — Jef and Raeann Van Arsdall are all about experiencing the outdoors, and now they are making it a little easier for others to do the same.

The couple opened Big River Recreation Saturday at 2029 Washington Ave. in Baker City at the intersection of Washington and Second streets.

Their rentals include stand up paddleboards, kayaks, two cruiser bicycles, inner tubes and other inflatables (including one with a capacity for eight people), fishing poles, fly rods, cornhole games and ice chests.

“Stuff to get people outside” Jef said. “There’s a solution for everybody — what’s your adventure?”

The big warehouse-style doors of the building sport decals of these different activities, which were designed by Christy Witham of Oregon Sign Company in Baker City.

“We had nothing — she mocked it all up,” Van Arsdall said.

The Van Arsdall family — Jef, Raeann, Delaney, 16, and Mason, 14 — moved from Corvallis to a family ranch in Durkee last year. Prior to the move, Jef spent 18 years in law enforcement.

“Let’s just start up a new chapter and new challenge,” he said of their decision to move.

They will split their time between working the ranch and running the recreation business.

Van Arsdall sees Big River as a community-wide venture, and he is working to make connections with local hotels, motels, restaurants and other businesses.

“I want people to experience Baker,” he said. “Give them something to do, and they’ll stay an extra day.”

Van Arsdall grew up in Gearhart on the northern Oregon Coast, and he first visited Baker City in 1990.

“Everyone here is just so nice,” he said.

He said the idea of a rental shop started when his family’s four-wheeler broke down, and they discussed the idea of a place to rent ATVs. Then they started talking to friends and brainstorming other types of rentals for outdoor adventures.

“It morphed into ‘let’s open an recreation business,’ “ he said.

He has six stand up paddleboards in stock (also referred to as SUP). Four are solid and two are inflatable models that can be carried — board and pump — in a backpack that weighs about 21 pounds.

“If you pack this into Hoffer Lake, paddle out and turn around — that’s something you’ve never seen before,” he said, referring to the half-mile (one-way) hike to Hoffer Lakes near Anthony Lake.

As for the solid paddleboards, he can help customers transport those no matter the vehicle using a system of cushions and straps.

“I have solutions for getting stuff out,” he said.

The paddleboards are “Stand on Liquid” brand out of Bend. They are designed for lakes and large rivers — but not the Powder River in Baker City, because it’s too shallow.

He offers float tubes for that adventure.

“The Powder River — what an asset in the community,” Jef said.

Also, he includes lifejackets with every water-based rental.

“Anything that goes out, they’re taking a life jacket with them,” he said.

Some rentals are available at an hourly rate — you can use a cruiser bike for $10 — and others are available for a four- or 24-hour rental.

Several of the paddleboards, for example, can be rented for $35 for four hours.

The Van Arsdalls are still working on their inventory, and welcome suggestions.

“If you think of something, don’t hesitate to put it out there,” he said.

The shop doesn’t have regular hours yet, but Jef is available by cell phone at 541-908-1814, and Big River Recreation will soon have a Facebook page, as well.

As for social media, he suggests that those who rent equipment use the hashtags #bigriverrecreation and #easternoregon when posting photos to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

“Those get picked up by Travel Oregon, and gets the Baker City brand out there,” he said.