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In Glenwood Springs, rafting can be an escape during pandemic

The Paxia family from California listen in during a quick safety talk before heading out with Glenwood Adventure Company on a rafting trip down the Roaring Fork River.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

You never heard Huck Finn complaining about COVID-19.

Floating down a river just might be a good way to escape from the COVID-19 reality, if just temporarily.

Precautions such as social distancing and mask-wearing make little sense when getting jostled by that big wave and drenched by spray.

Glenwood rafting companies say that if the experience on the water has changed, it’s only for the better. Restrictions on occupancy mean that there will be fewer people per boat, so each customer can get a little more personalized experience.

“We can have up to two separated parties together on a raft,” said Gregory Cowan, co-owner of Defiance Rafting. So two groups of two people mean a trip of just four guests.

“The experience is at an all-time high because more attention can be paid per individual,” said Patrick Drake, co-owner of Blue Sky Adventures.

Private trips are a bigger part of the business this year as well. It frees guests from concerns about mingling with others.

“We’ve been making private trips much more a part of the business than before,” Drake said.

“We didn’t do so many private trips last year, but now it’s about 50-50 [private to group trips],” said Ken Murphy, Glenwood Adventure Company president. 

Some Tuesday rafters said that being out on the water seemed like a safe place to be.

Natasha Paxia, visiting from California with her family of four, said, “I felt like doing this [rafting] would be fine because you are out in the open space and not around a ton of people. I can’t imagine someone sick doing this, so I felt like it was a perfectly safe option.”

Glen and Linda Goodwin, from Missouri, who have tested negative for COVID-19, scratched an item off their bucket list with Tuesday’s raft trip.

“I feel fairly safe. I think you can socially distance even in a raft as long as there aren’t too many people in it,” Glen Goodwin said. 

Cowan took the idea a step further.

“I’d like to think that being outside doing this kind of activity is a benefit,” he said.

Just because guests might forget about the coronavirus while rafting doesn’t mean guide companies aren’t taking all the necessary precautions.

“We’re trying to be very forthright and transparent regarding coronavirus,” Cowan said.

“Even before guests arrive we inform them through conversation about coronavirus mitigation and send links to our coronavirus protocols,” he said.

Some of the precautions aren’t completely new.

“Our equipment got cleaned after each use previously anyway. There’s not much difference in how we clean our equipment now, it’s just more visible,” Murphy said.

Vehicle cleaning has gone up a notch, though.

“Every vehicle gets fogged at the end of the day,” Murphy said.

Social distancing comes into play around the shop and especially in vehicles.

“The biggest limiting factor is transportation,” Cowan said.

State guidelines limit vehicle capacity to 50%.

“We’ve had to adapt because we’re using more vehicles,” Murphy said.

On the boats the six-foot spacing is a bit more fluid.

“There’ll be times when six-foot spacing is not practical or desired,” Cowan said, “like when you fall out of the raft and we need to pull you in.” 

Drake, however, said that with two groups on a boat together Blue Sky does make an effort to keep them separated.

“We maintain one-thwart (an internal strut) spacing. That was an internal company decision, it’s not specific in the rules,” he said.

Masks will be prevalent all the way to the river.

“We have points with our guest interaction where we require masks for both staff and guests. Any time when we’re in vehicles everyone wears masks. We’ll be deferential to some guests as well: If someone is adamant about wearing masks when it’s recommended but not required we’ll honor that,” Cowan said.

But river safety trumps virus protocol while in the boat.

“Guides need clear communication. They need to be heard when they make commands,” Drake said.

So when the rapids come, “the risk becomes greater to wear a mask,” he said.

While coronavirus protocols may be business as usual for guests, it hasn’t necessarily been easy for rafting companies to make adjustments.

“It’s our job to respond to that challenge, to provide additional accommodations, to squeeze out as much efficiency as possible and run through the form and function of a business,” Cowan said.

Or, as Murphy summed it up, “If you’re not adapting and changing in this environment you’ll probably go out of business,” he said.

Post Independent visual journalist Chelsea Self contributed to this report.

cwertheim@postindependent.com


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