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River levels, rafting spirits rise

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Colorado River water levels are up substantially over last year, and so are rafters’ spirits.

“It’s looking pretty good this year,” said Geoffrey Olson, manager at Blue Sky Adventures. “We’re getting lots of reservations from bigger groups … It’s getting back to more of a normal season.”

Over at Whitewater Rafting, last season’s dismal season has produced a rebound effect this year. “We’re getting quite a few calls from people who said they missed out on rafting last year, but still want to go this year,” said Whitewater Rafting co-owner Susi Larson.



Whitewater rafting is a $15-million-a-summer industry for Glenwood Springs, according to Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association figures, but business was down as much as 30 percent last year due to two factors: Low water on the Colorado River brought on by skimpy late-season snows and the summer drought, and June wildfires that kept tourists away.

“The fires topped everything off,” Larson said. “A month after the fires were out, we were still getting cancellations.”



At this time of the year in 2002, the Colorado River was flowing at about 2,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), said Lloyd Moore at the Shoshone power plant in Glenwood Canyon. On Monday, the river was flowing at 4,100 cfs.

Moore declined to speculate on whether the peak runoff has hit, but said it often occurs around Memorial Day. “This year, the spring has been cooler … But you can’t outguess Mother Nature.”

Glenwood Springs is home to four rafting companies, but it shares Glenwood Canyon launch facilities at Shoshone and Grizzly Creek with 11 other operators permitted by the Forest Service, said Cathy Kahlow, the district ranger for the Eagle Ranger District.

The high-water mark for commercial rafting in Glenwood Canyon was in 2000, when 73,000 passengers paddled their way down the Colorado River, Kahlow said. That number dropped to 66,000 in 2001, and 51,000 in 2002.

“We’re looking for this year to be a lot better than last year,” Kahlow said.

Although dozens of Glenwood’s rafts were grounded last year, Glenwood companies fared better than their counterparts in the Salida and Durango areas, because water rights associated with the Shoshone Dam guarantee at least a minimal water flow through Glenwood Canyon.

“Some companies on the Arkansas closed up,” Olson said.

The season has already started for Glenwood Springs rafting companies. It will take off after Memorial Day, and continue for some companies through Sept. 30. Trip rates vary, and companies offer several packages. A typical six-hour trip for an adult is in the $60 range, compared to the $25 range for a 90-minute trip. There are also youth rates.

Larson, whose company operates 50 boats on the Colorado, Crystal and Roaring Fork rivers, said a river flow of 4,000 cfs produces good whitewater, with “big waves, lots of splash and lots of fun.”

Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association marketing director Lori Hogan rafted the Colorado River last Sunday. “It was a blast,” she said. “It’s going to be a great season.”

Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534

lburton@postindependent.com


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