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Boaters toast ‘phenomenal season’ on local rivers

Steve Lynn
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily/Lakota River GuidesRafters on a Lakota River Guides trip plunge through rapids on the Eagle River in Avon. The Eagle River has stayed higher for a longer time this year, giving boaters an extended season.
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EAGLE ” Paul Siratovich has kayaked stretches of the Eagle River and Homestake Creek this month that kayakers normally abandon by the end of June.

He said he hopes to kayak steep drops of Homestake, near Red Cliff, and the boulder-laden Eagle River through the Gilman Gorge, south of Minturn, until August.

“It’s been a phenomenal season,” said Siratovich, who works for Alpine Quest Sports in Edwards.



Rapids on the Eagle and Colorado rivers and some creeks ” though not exceptionally high this year compared to past seasons ” have remained consistently high after runoff from heavy snow this winter and cooler spring temperatures, which delayed melting snow.

Water levels on the Eagle and Colorado rivers haven’t stayed this high this late in the summer since 1957, said Greg Kelchner, owner of Timberline Tours.

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This was the first Fourth of July in a decade, for example, that Timberline guides took customers on trips on the Eagle River, said Kelchner, whose Eagle-based business ” which he has owned since 1971 ” has thrived this year.

“The longer the runoff goes, the more opportunity,” he said.

Only recently has Kelchner shifted his trips from the Eagle River to portions of the Arkansas and Colorado rivers that run through canyons ” and whose water levels remain high.



Water levels on the Eagle River peaked in early June and have gradually decreased since then, said Mike Chamberlain, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

“Typically, they would have peaked a little bit earlier,” Chamberlain said.

The lower Eagle River in Gypsum and the Colorado River in Dotsero, for instance, have lowered only around a foot and are expected to lower slowly in the coming weeks, he said.

Because most snow has melted, only lots of rain will raise water levels. But even that won’t bring levels back to their apex, Chamberlain said.

Karl Borski, manager of Eagle-Vail-based Lakota Guides ” which guides rafting trips on the Arkansas, Eagle and Colorado rivers ” looks at gauges in the Eagle River on his way to work. He has seen Dowd Chutes, a narrow canyon with raging rapids between Minturn and Eagle-Vail, go from 8 feet high in June to 5 feet high early last week.

Commercial rafting companies in the Vail Valley have agreed not to guide trips down the chutes when the river is 6-1/2 feet high, he said.

“At that level, if something goes into the water it’s not a very forgiving swim,” Borski said.

The company takes several precautions to keep its customers safe on the river: A kayaker rides with the rafts to pick up stranded swimmers; boaters wear life jackets, wet suits and helmets; and guides organize trips according to age and athletic ability of customers.

Safety talks before trips teach customers what to do if they fall into the river and how to quickly pull someone out of the river and back into a raft, Borski said. Guides are also trained well, and they are certified in whitewater rescue, he said.

The Vail Daily has reported a couple of instances where rafts have flipped ” no one was seriously injured ” and about the Eagle County sheriff considering a boating ban on the river earlier this season.

Borski said that coverage, along with high gas prices, led to slower business than usual this season.

“Things are worded more intense than it is, and suddenly everybody reels from it,” said Borski, adding that many more rafts flipped on the Arkansas River this season than on the Eagle River.

Siratovich hopes to kayak on the Eagle River until August, when normally it’s too shallow to run some stretches of the river in mid-July. The Colorado River should be running high well through September, he said.

“It’s still a great time to get out there on the river,” he said.

Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 970-748-2931 or slynn@vaildaily.com.


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