Xplore reporter Stephen Meyers takes a rafting trip down the Poudre River with A Wanderlust Adventures. The lower section of the river offers Class II and Class III fun during high water.
Commercial rafting outfitters are now allowed to run trips with members of up to two households only and must follow local policies. Other restrictions are in place to allow for social distancing and sanitizing of equipment.
While private rafters and kayakers have been taking advantage of peak runoff on Northern Colorado’s Poudre River, commercial rafting companies have had to sit on the banks, waiting for the state to open their season.
Local rafting companies are itching to get on the water this weekend, with some posting on their website that they expect to be open. But that may not happen.
Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said Wednesday that the state would accept comments on draft guidance proposals for operations amid coronavirus restrictions through June 3. Those guidance proposals will next need to be reviewed by the state’s various counties to make sure they are in line with current restrictions, much like when the ski season was reopened.
Those restrictions include shuttle buses being limited to 50% capacity, rafts restricted to occupants from one to two households, sanitizing all equipment before each trip and companies completing daily health evaluations for employees.
Gibbs said clearing the guidance restrictions takes time and did not answer whether he expected Colorado’s commercial rafting season to open by this weekend.
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If the season does not open by Saturday, outfitters will have lost 20 days out of a roughly 100-day rafting season, creating rough waters for an industry that has a $188 million economic impact statewide, including $13.1 million from the Poudre River.
“This has been devastating for us,” said Brad Modesitt, owner of Fort Collins-based Mountain Whitewater for the past 21 years. “You keep hoping for a break from flood, fire or something else, hope for a nice average year, but average doesn’t seem to happen here anymore.”
Modesitt said companies can’t make up for the lost time on the river because they are restricted in the number of days they can operate and the number of people they can take down the river each day.
Taylor Ripp, co-owner of Rapid Transit Rafting, one of five companies permitted to run the Poudre River, said in an average year the company would send 11,000 customers down the Poudre and Colorado rivers. This year, he believes the number will be closer to 2,000.
He said his company faces an additional hurdle because it is headquartered in the tourist town of Estes Park, which has already taken an economic hit from COVID-19 restrictions.
“We understand the precautions taken, but the most frustrating thing for us is not knowing when our season will open,” Ripp said.
The postponed and restricted rafting season comes at an especially inopportune time for Bob Klein, who bought Fort Collins-based A Wanderlust Adventure in January, after working for the company for 27 years.
Optimistically, he is hoping to run 4,000 people down the river, which would be about half of last year’s number. But he is preparing for 2,000.
He said the late start to the season and expected restrictions resulted in him hiring only 10 full-time guides instead of 14. He also reduced the number of part-time guides he hired.
“We are hoping for local support from the Front Range,” Klein said. “If people aren’t going to travel as much this year, maybe more of them will stay here and instead raft on the Poudre in their backyard.”
Poudre River commercial outfitters
A1 Wildwater Rafting: Fort Collins, 970-224-3379 or a1wildwater.com
A Wanderlust Adventure: Fort Collins, 970-482-1995 or www.awanderlustadventure.com
Mountain Whitewater Descents: Fort Collins, 970-419-0917 or www.raftmwd.com
Rapid Transit: Estes Park, 970-577-7238 or www.rapidtransitrafting.com
Rocky Mountain Adventures: Fort Collins, 970-493-4005 or www.shoprma.com
Colorado commercial rafting by the numbers
- Direct expenditures 2019: $73.6 million statewide, $5.1 million Poudre River
- Economic impact: $188.4 million statewide, $13.1 million Poudre River
Most rafted rivers
- Arkansas: 190,246
- Clear Creek: 96,063
- Colorado (Glenwood section): 65,302
- Poudre: 37,707
- Animas: 37,553
Source: Colorado River Outfitters Association annual report for 2019
Reporter Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life. Be it news, outdoors, sports — you name it, he wants to report it. Have a story idea? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MilesBlumhardt. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
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