Eagle River Watershed Council: Here’s to a summer on the river
School is out, days are long, and the river level has risen — all sure signs that summer is here in Eagle County. Additionally, perhaps you notice the change from spring the way we do, with kayaks and rafts on cars as they buzz from boat launch to boat launch, with ditches filling as folks utilize their water rights and with sprinklers coming out of hibernation.
Nonetheless, summer marks the season of increased river usage.
This year, despite predicted lower flows, is expected to be an exceptionally busy one. The pandemic brought an onslaught of new users to rivers and the outdoors in general, and as the world opens up, we expect visitors and new recreationalists to return and enjoy these resources.
As an environmental organization that believes the river is for all, we see this as a good thing. The best way to create an environmental steward is to foster a connection with the environment — something a trip down the river or a simple wade in a stream is sure to do.
But with both new and experienced river users, we also want to make sure the river is protected. Whether you’re angling, kayaking, rafting, picnicking, surfing, paddle boarding, tubing or simply sitting by the river, there are some ground rules to reduce your impact and keep our rivers healthy for all those who rely on it.
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The seven basic principles of Leave No Trace are good places to start and they adapt to the river quite easily. Those seven principles include: plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife and be considerate of other visitors. We will dive deeper into a few of these to help get you on the river and practice good stewardship.
Plan ahead and prepare
River trips require a lot of planning and preparation, from having the right gear and knowing the weather to packing enough food and water for the adventure. Ask questions like: Does this section of river feature rapids? Where is the best place to leave a shuttle vehicle? Do I have enough life jackets for my entire group? Do I have a way to secure my gear, including trash and recycling, in case of wind or a boat flip? Do I have a “wag bag,” in case of an unexpected need to use the bathroom?
Be considerate of other visitors
This one seems obvious, but it’s critical. Many folks see the river as a place of peace and solitude, so it’s important to not intrude on the river experiences of others. Let natural sounds prevail, give space to anglers looking to snag those gold-medal trout and for the love of rivers, if you are not ready to launch your boat, do not block the launch site.
Dispose of waste properly
Trashing our rivers isn’t cool. Whatever you bring on the river, make sure that it leaves with you and is placed into the appropriate recycling, trash or compost bin. When it comes to human waste, use bathrooms whenever possible. If a No. 1 comes around while floating, it’s best to go right in the river. For those infamous No. 2s, be sure to pack those out with the rest of your trash using a “wag bag.”
There’s a whole lot to think about when planning a river recreation trip, but there are plenty of resources out there like the Leave No Trace guide from American Whitewater, or the planning guide from Princeton’s Outdoor Action.
If you want to learn more about how to get on the river safely this summer, consider joining us for the Water Safety Expo taking place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 27. The event will be held at the Eagle River Park and will feature local organizations, including Eagle River Watershed Council, to teach you a variety of skills and techniques.
Respect our rivers, happy summer, and we will see you out on the water.
James Dilzell is the Education & Outreach Coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at 970-827-5406 or visit ERWC.org.