Vail Symposium’s first Unlimited Adventure slated for Thursday |

Vail Symposium’s first Unlimited Adventure slated for Thursday

Caramie Schnell
Will Stauffer-Norris paddling on Havasu Creek in the Grand Canyon.
Sophia Maravell | Special to the Daily |

If you go ...

Who: “Source to Sea: Down the Colorado River,” presented by Zak Podmore, part of the Vail Symposium’s Unlimited Adventure series.

Where: The Donovan Pavilion, Vail.

When: Thursday. 5:30 p.m. reception, 6 p.m. presentation.

Cost: $10 suggested donation.

More information: Pre-registration is encouraged; please call the Vail Symposium at 970-476-0954 or visit

There used to be 3,000 square miles of wetlands in the Colorado River delta; now less than 10 percent remains. The mighty Colorado River stretches nearly 1,500 miles, draining the expansive arid watershed that encompasses seven U.S. and two Mexican states. It begins at La Poudre Pass Lake, just south of the continental divide at 10,184 feet and flows to the Gulf of California. Or at least it used to.

Due to dams and canal systems, the Colorado river doesn’t reach the sea anymore.

Zak Podmore, 26, has kayaked and rafted (and hiked) the Colorado River from its source multiple times now in an effort to better understand the Colorado River basin. The Glenwood Springs native navigated wilderness canyons, massive reservoirs and irrigation canals, most recently in May after an agreement was reached between the U.S. and Mexico and a pulse flow of water was released back into the Colorado River Delta.

Through a series of videos and explanations, Podmore, who works as the online editor for Canoe & Kayak magazine, will share his experience at Donovan Pavilion in Vail Thursday night when he speaks as part of the Vail Symposium’s Unlimited Adventure series. The program is presented in partnership with the Eagle River Watershed Council.

“Water is so important to us here in the High Rockies, we rely on it, in one form or another, for our livelihoods and lifestyles,” said Tracey Flower, the Vail Symposium’s executive director. “The Colorado River runs right through our backyard and, while we spend our summers camping next to it, swimming in it and rafting on it, we don’t always stop to think about its destination or what happens to it along the way. Zak’s presentation will give attendees the opportunity to think about the Colorado, and all of our rivers, in a new way and help us all gain a better understanding of water laws that can impact life as we know it in the Vail Valley.”

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Podmore took the time to answer a few questions for the Vail Daily.

Vail Daily: Tell me what people can expect from your presentation on Thursday?

Zak Podmore: Thursday’s presentation will be an hour-long, multi-media journey down the Colorado River from two of its sources to its dry delta in Mexico. The talk will revolve around two extended paddling trips I took with my friend Will Stauffer-Norris, which brought us down 2,500 miles of rivers in the Colorado basin. We interviewed dozens of stakeholders and made a series of short films about the many uses of the river, and the environmental issues it’s facing. Through a mix of video, slides and stories, I hope to share why this watershed is my favorite place to paddle — and why the Colorado River so rarely reaches the sea.

VD: You clearly have a love for Colorado rivers. Tell me where this love came from. How has the Colorado River, specifically, impacted you?

ZP: I grew up doing extended multi-day rafting trips with my family on the Colorado and its tributaries. It flows through some of the most beautiful country and unique canyons in world, has great whitewater, and still offers an opportunity to experience wilderness and solitude that’s increasingly rare in the Lower 48. But it’s not just a place to get away; some of my best memories were born on trips down the river with friends and family.

VD: What prompted you to explore the Colorado River from source to sea a few years ago? And why did you want to return recently?

ZP: Will Stauffer-Norris and I did our first source-to-sea right after we graduated college. We wanted to go on the longest kayaking trip possible and the Colorado seemed like the best place to do that. By the time we reached the sea, however, we’d gone through an intense, first-hand encounter with a river that has a lot of beauty, but also a lot of problems. We returned the next year for another 900-mile trip in order to understand the river system better.

VD: How was this more recent trip different from the first time you explored the river?

ZP: My most recent trip on the Colorado took place in May of last year when an unprecedented agreement was brokered by environmental groups between the governments of the U.S. and Mexico, and a simulated flood was released into the delta of the Colorado. This was the first time ever that water was deliberately returned to the riverbed in Mexico for environmental purposes. I was lucky enough to paddle the “pulse flow,” as it was called, for a few days and see the river reconnect (briefly) with the sea. It was an incredible experience to see water returned to the delta and to cross by boat the same area that, just a few years earlier, I’d crossed by foot.

VD: You’re originally from Glenwood Springs. Where do you live currently?

ZP: I’ve been living in San Clemente, Cali. for the last 6 months, but I’m still drinking Colorado River water from the tap, even all the way in SoCal.

VD: What is the overall message you want the audience to walk away with?

ZP: The biggest thing I’ve been learning since I became involved with this project is the extent to which water connects us in the West. It touches so many parts of our lives far beyond the water we see flowing between the riverbanks; it’s in our food, our homes, our economies, our energy, and in the places we recreate. I hope the talk and videos make some of these unseen connections visible, and that people will be inspired to get in a boat and start floating.

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