On March 5, 2023, Bill Parks, the founder and president of Northwest River Supplies (NRS) passed away peacefully of natural causes at St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise, Idaho, at the age of 88. He stood at the helm of the brand he founded for over 50 years.
NRS brand released the following statement today:
“It is with heavy hearts filled with fond memories, laughter, love and respect that we inform you all of the passing of Bill Parks. Bill was known as a businessman, river runner, and educator, but he was foremost a humanitarian. He leaves behind a 50-year legacy of serving customers and community, people and the planet, steadfast in his belief that business can be a force for good in the world.
When first starting NRS, his business philosophy was considered unorthodox by many of his peers. While the prevailing theory of the time held that a business’s only responsibility was to produce profit for its shareholders, Bill believed that a company could aspire to have a positive impact on the lives of its customers and employees, and to be a force for good in the world. He wanted to start his own company, in part, to simply prove his ideas could work.
“In the spring of 1969, Bill found his way aboard a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, an experience that would change his life—and the outdoor industry—forever. Bill became hooked on river running, bought a Montgomery Ward raft for $69, and talked his way onto any river trip he could find. He saw potential for the sport to grow, and potential for a company to supply that sport with quality gear and a commitment to service. In 1972, Bill took $2,000 of his personal savings, stocked an inventory of gear in his garage and started Northwest River Supplies, Inc.
“NRS grew to become a multi-million-dollar international company, and in 2013 Bill began taking steps to plan for a future without him. Bill helped finance a deal to transfer all NRS stock to the company’s workers, and in early 2014 NRS became 100% employee owned.”
“Bill took pleasure in celebrating the NRS 50th anniversary last year,” NRS also wrote in the statement. “‘I’m proud to say that NRS is truly led by its people,’ Parks had said at the time. ‘Sometimes you guys tell me that I’m important to the company, and I pretend to believe it. But it’s about the people at NRS now.’”
Absolutely — Bill’s legacy will live on not only in the whitewater community and in the paddle industry, but in so many other ways. A staple NRS product, “Bill’s Bags” line of dry bags, is still available and widely popular among paddlers today.
Celebrating Bill Parks
Like many great brands, it all started with an idea. Bill Parks started NRS with a print mail-order catalog, shipping gear from his garage.
Bill Parks founded NRS in 1972, but even into his 80s, Parks was still running the company, and running rivers too.
NRS has been one of the foremost brands in the paddle industry for decades. NRS manufactured the first purpose-built dry bag for boaters back in 1977, has been selling inflatable rafts since the early ’80s, and more recently (circa 2011) entered the inflatable SUP scene. It makes everything from whitewater paddles to PFDs to wetsuits, drysuits, and more.
Bryan Dingel, NRS’s CEO, and Todd Benson, NRS’s Chief Planning Officer, remain to lead the company.