Braunholtz: There’s a reason for the rules, river rats |

Braunholtz: There’s a reason for the rules, river rats

Alan Braunholtz
Vail CO, Colorado

This weekend’s end-of-season party for Colorado’s loose-knit river community’s up at the Pumphouse above State Bridge looks to be a little different this year. Over the years, the once small, grassroots Gore Canyon Festival kayak race has grown into a national qualifying race with beer tents, bands, jumbotrons, port-a-potties and all the organization, permits and sponsors needed to pull such a large event off.

This year it’s a victim of its own growth and success. The group ” Rapid Pulse ” who organized it couldn’t find a sponsor to help with expenses and pulled out of the festival. New Bureau of Land Management rules, which make getting the permits a 180-day process, prevented a local rafting company, Timberline, from picking up the slack when they found out the race wasn’t on.

Realizing what an important event the Gore Festival is to the boating community, the local BLM officials thought about speeding up the process. But policy consistency and the events complexity prevented that. Guess this is a risk when an event grows out of its roots. It’s bigger and better, but not self-sustaining anymore.

The race is traditionally held this weekend and it’ll be interesting to see what happens. The cynical view is that boaters more receptive to authority will heed the BLM’s request to boat another time to reduce congestion because the Pumphouse doesn’t have the outhouses, trash or campsite capacity to cope with an impromptu crowd of the usual thousands.

Those with less time for government ” except when it helps provide access to water ” will show up anyway and relationships with those who enforce the regulations could deteriorate.

The BLM’s official stance is that without a permit there can’t be an official or unofficial race. Self-contained endurance races in other fields are also having difficult times with racing on public lands. When does a group of friends or acquaintances testing each other on a long ride become a race? Many of these races have no support, entrance fees or prizes.

It’s easy to say “stuff The Man” but the BLM has a tough job to do managing their lands in a difficult political climate. Consistency is a necessarywith rules. Basically they don’t want people to get hurt or hurt others. They want everyone to have as good a time as possible while not damaging and trashing the public’s land.

Turning a blind eye to a pretty public unofficial race with no organized safety or evacuation plans, in a stretch of river with class 5 rapids in a canyon isn’t something they can do. With all the publicity on river fatalities this year if someone pushed too hard and got unlucky they’d be questioned by families and reamed by the press. I’d say, you can track your time if you inadvertently bump your watch on a rock at the first and last rapid. Track it for your personal growth. That’s what wilderness is about anyway, testing yourself against the river instead of others.

Everyone is still welcome to camp and boat the canyon if they follow common decency for public land use. BLM asks that only designated sites are used at the Pumphouse and if full that any dispersed camping off the nearby Trough Road uses fire pits and portable toilets, keeping group size below 10.

It’ll be a bit of a test for the boating community to see if Pumphouse’s campground looks good on Sunday afternoon. Conflicts with BLM, other users and the railroad would set back all the progress Rapid Pulse has made with the Festival in recent years.

I’m guessing that those who show up will relive the nostalgic and mythical times of yore when men were men boats were big with low key camping, partying and boating.

You don’t need a race or beer tent to have a good time.

Then next year may be all the local companies and boaters can get together early enough and decide which way they want the festival to go.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a biweekly column for the Daily. Send comments or questions to

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