River outfitters are loving wet year

A power boat maneuvers on the cold and fast-running Colorado River near the Blue Heron Boat Ramp on Saturday afternoon. High, cold waters and strong currents are creating some safety advice, and some vessels, like inner tubes, are not advised until later of the summer. CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON/ The Daily Sentinel

Area rivers may be raging, but river-running outfitters aren't complaining.

High, cold waters and strong currents are creating some safety considerations and operational adjustments during an abundant runoff season for companies that provide rental boats and guided trips. But the plentiful flows this year also provide the promise of a lengthy and fun float season with lots of river-running options.

"Hopefully the water's going to stay up at a decent level and we can have a long, good boating season this year. We're very excited about that," said Rondo Buecheler, owner of Palisade River Trips.

His business relies on flows through local wine country down to Grand Junction, and was basically shut down by the end of June last year due to the terrible snowpack and low river levels then. This year he is expecting flows to be fine through the entire summer season.

"We're loving this water level," he said.

He said during the current high runoff his company has cut back on the paddle-boarding side of its operations and instead is focusing on rafting and inflatable kayaks. Experienced paddle-boarders are having a good time, but for those not familiar with paddle-boarding on rivers, "wait till the end of the month and it should be great," he advised.

Travis Baier, owner of Rimrock Adventures in Fruita, said his company doesn't rent out its canoes at the current water level. But the river is offering lots of thrills for other kinds of boating.

"I know a lot of our customers are excited about the high water. The people who went last year are noticing a big difference (this year). … There's a lot of people enjoying it right now. We're putting a lot of rental boats down the river this week."

Baier said canoes can be prone to tipping in the Black Rocks stretch of the Ruby-Horsethief section of the Colorado River right now due to stronger currents and eddy lines, but rafts do fine there. He said boaters need to be vigilant all along the river and also keep an eye out for more debris during runoff flows.

The river is flowing so fast right now that people can float the entire 25-mile Ruby-Horsethief stretch in a day — even as few as four or five hours, Baier said. He said his company is running guided one-day trips there right now and he thinks some people are realizing they can float the stretch in a day rather than needing to make reservations for Bureau of Land Management campgrounds.

In Glenwood Canyon, raft companies currently aren't running the Shoshone stretch of the Colorado River due to strong flows, as is typical this time of year. Ken Murphy, owner of Glenwood Adventure Co., said that closure might last perhaps a week longer this year than in a normal year. He said the Shoshone rapids have a brand appeal and people want to raft there, but high water provides lots of other good rafting options. Last year, the Roaring Fork River didn't provide much of a rafting season, but this year is different. While it usually offers good rafting until maybe the first or second week of July, "now we're going to be on it we hope maybe until August," Murphy said.

He said the Roaring Fork offers beautiful scenery away from Interstate 70 and sightings of bald eagles and other wildlife. And rapids that are usually rated Class 2 are currently Class 3.

"It gives people enough whitewater to get wet but not scare them," he said.

Colorado River trips that put in at the Grizzly Creek area of Glenwood Canyon below Shoshone also are heading farther downstream than normal right now, to New Castle, due to the fast-flowing water, Murphy said.

"It's great rafting right now," he said.

Murphy said his company also owns Lakota Guides in Vail. He said the Eagle River in Eagle County will be good for rafting for longer this summer due to the big water year, meaning the company can continue offering trips to guests there rather than having to bus them to Glenwood Springs or the upper Arkansas River. He said the Blue River in Summit County also will benefit from a longer boating season.

He said the good thing about Colorado is that while sections of rivers may close to rafting at times, other sections of a river or other rivers open up and provide other options.

With this year's strong runoff, "our season's going to be longer. We'll also have more choices where to go," he said. "… There's huge benefits to this extra snowpack."

In a high-water year like this one, he advises private boaters who may have concerns to call commercial companies for advice on where to go on local rivers and how to make good choices.

Buecheler also offers the same advice the Mesa County Sheriff's Office does, warning against the use of inner tubes on rivers until water levels subside. He said his company won't be renting them until July sometime.

"We see tubers. We tell them don't go. It's dangerous. You cannot control a tube if the water's fast," he said.

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