Rafting business rebounds
Commercial rafting activity in Colorado saw a dramatic recovery in 2003 from the difficult 2002 season, with a statewide increase in participation of 45 percent.
The increase shows that the rafting industry is well on its way to recovering from the 2002 drought year, in which many rivers did not run or only had enough water for minimal rafting activity. But the recovery is not a total one.
The report, issued by the Colorado River Outfitters Association at its annual trade show in Pueblo last weekend, shows that commercial river use statewide was down by about 11 percent from 2001, the most recent season not afflicted by drought. Since 1999, growth in the rafting industry had leveled out.
On the Arkansas River near Buena Vista, one of the most popular whitewater stretches in the country, use reached an all-time high of 252,213 rafters in 2001. The 2003 River Outfitters Association report shows a 14-percent decline from that season.
The Upper Colorado just south of Kremmling continues to grow in popularity with 41,054 commercial trips in 2003, its busiest season since 2000. The Upper Colorado’s use grew steadily since it held enough water for commercial operations even through the drought, thanks in part to releases from Green Mountain Reservoir.
The Blue River, in northern Summit County, did not run commercially in 2002, but hosted 264 commercial rafters in 2003. That figure is significantly higher than the Blue’s 14 commercial raft trips in 2001.
John Cantamessa, River Outfitters Association board member and owner of Highside Adventure Tours and Good Times Rafting based in Frisco, said he made a nice comeback from 2002 and expects to see further recovery in the coming season.
“My companies saw a nice rebound from the drought of 2002. We were pretty close to our 2001 numbers, which were our strongest to date,” Cantamessa said.
“It usually takes a couple of years to recover from something as catastrophic as the drought, but now that we are two years removed, wildfires and drought are becoming a distant memory. We will continue to recover and people will get excited about getting on the rivers again,” he said.
The 2003 River Outfitters Association report estimated the economic impact of commercial rafting in Colorado was $116 million in 2003, a 48 percent increase from the $78.5 million in 2002. The highest amount in the last 15 years was $125.8 million, recorded in 2001.
Commercial rafting outfitters are looking to 2004 to be another successful year, with snowpack levels in all the river drainages at respectable levels and the big snow months of March and April still to come.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which tracks snowpack levels around Colorado, the latest figures for river basins in Colorado are: Gunnison River basin, 92 percent of the 30-year average; Upper Colorado River basin, 81 percent; South Platte River basin, 70 percent; North Platte River basin, 85 percent; Yampa/White River basin, 90 percent; Arkansas River basin, 79 percent; Upper Rio Grande basin, 100 percent; and the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan river basins, 93 percent.