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Battle on the river

Cliff Thompson

The issue isn’t the use of the river – it’s the time spent launching, shuttling between launch and retrieval points and then trying to park.

Drought this year is compounding the parking, as the Shoshone Power Station’s water rights ensure good flows in Glenwood Canyon.

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service is looking for a better approach to the peak-period use. They’re considering charging permit fees to private boaters for use of the boat launching facilities. Commercial boating outfits already operate under a permit.

“Right now, it’s a free-for-all,” says Eagle District Ranger Cathy Kahlow, who oversees the area.

Last year, 73,000 people floated through the rapids below Shoshone and the Grizzly Creek section of the Colorado River, Kahlow says. About 5,000 people floated the river section on their own, without using a commercial rafting operation.

“The real challenge is there’s not enough parking or room and you have to be real efficient (at launching),” says Kevin Snyder of Glenwood Springs-based Rock Garden Rafting. “You can have one guy bottlenecking the ramp for half an hour.”

Equally constricting to launching is the need for private boaters to shuttle a vehicle to the take-put point after launching. That leaves the boat at the launch site while the vehicle is shuttling back and forth, clogging the small beach near the ramp.

Scott Willoughby, a kayaker from Minturn, says having private boaters pay to use the launch and retrieval areas would be consistent with the policies on the Arkansas River and the Pumphouse stretch of the upper Colorado River.

“It’s understandable that it would come to this with the options available now for boating,” Willoughby says. “Generally, (the system at Glenwood Canyon) works pretty well, but with the drought Shoshone is the only thing with guaranteed flows.”

Pro kayaker Brad Ludden of Edwards is concerned about the permit fees, however.

“If the money is going to help the river, or protect it, it’s great,” he says. “If it’s just for an unrelated cause, that’s not so good. It’s not like skiing, where you have to buy a pass each day.”

Ludden says he feels kayaking is already expensive enough. If permits are implemented, he says, an uproar can be expected.

Gotta go, now!

That creates problems for the commercial rafting companies. Under the terms of their permits, they have narrow windows of time to launch and float the river. Companies often run dozens of rafts a day, and any interruption of the normally smooth flow of launch and retrieval for commercial operations can test patience. Up to 250 rafts per day ply the Colorado in Glenwood Canyon.

That’s a pittance, actually, compared to the rafting companies using the Arkansas River. With many more launch and retrieval sites to choose from, they carry nearly 250,000 people annually with far less congestion.

“It’s that mix of commercial and private traffic that creates the problems, says Bill Johnson, Forest Service recreation planner. It’s not just boaters creating the congestion, he adds, but fishermen and bikers who use the canyon’s parking areas and shuttle between points.

To help manage the shore and water traffic in Glenwood Canyon, the Forest Service and commercial boating companies using the Shoshone and Grizzly Creek boat launch ramps forged a unique agreement in 1982. The companies pay 95 cents a head to fund river rangers, who help smooth launching and shuttling. The combination of increasing volume and the mix of private and commercial boaters using cramped facilities, however, has overwhelmed that system and a new approach is being eyed.

Striped shirts and whistles

That sort of bottleneck can create conflicts that are ugly. Snyder says he’s heard of some “intense discussion” between private and commercial boaters over time spent launching on the single-use ramps. Many times, too, the river rangers themselves are the targets of abuse from private boaters. Johnson said one river ranger even has begun wearing a referee’s whistle.

“Private boaters are not permitted or controlled, and they’re not carrying any of the burden to make it work,” says Darryl Bangert of Vail-based Lakota Guides. “Unfortunately there are people out there that think they are above the rules. If commercial boaters ever did that, we would lose our permit.”

Next month a survey will be taken by a Colorado State University student at the Two Rivers Park take-out in West Glenwood seeking to determine what will make the system work better. Once the survey is completed, public meeting will be held before deciding what will be done to manage the area, Kahlow says.

“We need to be looking at how many people we can put through the launch site,” Kahlow says. “We’re going to be examining if a shuttle system could work for private boaters.”

Technically, the area is a mix of land maintained by the Forest Service and Colorado Department of Transportation, but the Forest Service has stepped up to try and resolve the issue, Kahlow says. It’s not something the Forest Service wants, she adds.

“If someone wants to step in and do it, be our guest,” Kahlow says.


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