2006 Highwater RMN

 In Press

High water creates great expectations for rafting
Dennis Schroeder © News © 2004

The rafting industry made a comeback last summer thanks to improved conditions like those encountered by guide
April 21, 2006

Colorado’s river-rafting outfitters are predicting a white-hot whitewater season this spring and summer – as long as things don’t get too hot. “We are expecting high water this year; we’re super-optimistic,” said Kevin Meadows, owner of Buena Vista-based River Runners. “If we have warm and windy weather for the next 30 days, that could change.”

Recent balmy temperatures have made drought-weary outfitters banking on above-average snow pack a little nervous heading into prime rafting season, which unofficially kicks off May 1.

“We’d like to see a nice gradual warm-up so we can preserve water and get the longest season possible,” Meadows said. “Right now we’re expecting high water and good fun water that we haven’t seen in several years.”

Last year represented a significant rebound for the state’s rafting industry, plagued by several years of persistent drought. According to the Colorado River Outfitter’s Association, rafting brought in a record $135 million in 2005.

And expectations are running high that the industry will continue to go with that flow after an above-average winter in many areas. CROA officials said they hope to surpass the 1999 record of 525,537 user days and definitely expect to top the 2005 total of 504,622.

“The spring runoff will undoubtedly generate nationwide interest and offer rafting experiences we haven’t seen in years,” said CROA president Ches Russell, whose organization includes 45 licensed outfitters and claims to be the No. 1 summer tourism industry in the state.

As of Wednesday, several of Colorado’s 13 river drainages had average or above average snow-pack levels, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Upper Arkansas River Basin, the most rafted stretch of river in the United States (228,091 user days last year), was holding at 99 percent of its annual average, and the popular Upper Colorado River Basin was at 115 percent of its average annual.

Closer to Denver, Clear Creek stood at 118 percent and the South Platte was at 102 percent. Even recreational boaters were optimistic about the coming whitewater season.

“I think it’s going to be great as long as we can get some cooler weather here over the next couple of weeks,” said Dillon DeMore, of Edwards, who regularly rafts with friends who own their own boats. “It’s obviously melting off pretty fast.”

DeMore has been monitoring flow levels at Westwater Canyon, a popular run on the Colorado River in eastern Utah, because his group has a permit for that stretch next weekend.

He said it’s already topping 12,000 cubic feet per second when it was about 7,000 cfs at the same time last year.

“Two years ago we had a similar sort of thing: decent snow pack and then it just got hot and it all ripped and roared at once and then the rest of the season was pretty mellow,” DeMore said.

But Nathrop outfitter Bill Dvorak of Bill Dvorak’s Kayak and Rafting Expeditions isn’t too concerned.

“I’ve seen the snow pack turn around dramatically in May and June if we have a really cool and rainy spring,” he said. “But if we get a warm spring, I think we have enough snow that it will still be good.”

Dvorak said a trend in recent years is savvy tourists keeping closer track of water levels and planning trips to maximize their thrills.

“We’re seeing a lot of people much more aware of the water conditions, trying to catch the peak of the runoff,” said Dvorak, noting his May and early June bookings are up as a result.

Meadows said he certainly hopes the state’s rafting industry can continue the 5 percent to 10 percent growth curve it enjoyed last year. A cool spring will help ensure a hot summer for the state’s outfitters, he said.

“Ideally we’d like to see a nice cool-down, not too warm and windy, and then it doesn’t really warm up until the tourists get here in June,” Meadows said. “It’s tough to watch the water going by when there’s no one in town to enjoy it.”

But for now he remains hopeful it will be a banner year.

“The optimism is great, the phones are ringing, reservations are flowing in. The word is definitely out that it’s going to be a good season,” Meadows said. “Anytime there’s a good ski season that naturally spills over into summer. It’s that liquid gold, the snow.”

Going with the flow

•To monitor snow-pack levels and flow levels in Colorado’s 13 river systems, go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Web site atwww.nrcs.usda.gov.

•For more information on the Colorado River Outfitter’sAssociation and a complete listing of the state’s 45 licensed outfitters, go to www.croa.org.

•To contact River Runners in Buena Vista, go towww.whitewater.net or call 1-719-395-2466.

•To contact Bill Dvorak’s Kayak and Rafting Expeditions in Nathrop, go to www.dvorakexpeditions.com or call 1-800-842-3795.