‘Got rafting?’ Fewer river runners on Colorado’s waterways this season
SUMMIT COUNTY – Fewer tourists chose to run Colorado’s rivers this summer, according to Summit County’s river outfitters. Some industry insiders say guest numbers are up to 15 percent off last year, leaving business owners wondering why the popularity of one of Colorado’s best attractions is waning. Outfitter Duke Bradford, owner of Arkansas Valley Adventures, said the industry needs to launch a campaign like “Got Milk?” to simply remind visitors to add the activity to summer plans. Others blame a rainy June, the slow economic recovery or excessive media coverage on the drought. Many scratch their heads in dismay.
“We’re just trying to nail down why we weren’t as busy as we thought we should be,” said Kevin Foley, owner of Performance Tours, the third-busiest company on the Arkansas River.”A lot of us are guessing; was it related to weather, travel patterns … the economy isn’t incredibly strong. Are people spending less money?”Outfitters agree it’s a tough business to run.Rafting numbers on the Arkansas River, which includes the nation’s most popular stretch in Brown’s Canyon, peaked in 2001 at about a quarter million. The industry was devastated in 2002 by a severe drought season that brought the lowest river flows seen since the activity began in earnest in the late 1970s. Flows returned in 2003 but a full economic recovery was not realized when about 218,000 people rafted the river. This year’s numbers, despite good water flows, are expected to be 15 percent off the 2003 figure.”Overall market share is clearly shrinking,” said Bradford, who didn’t blame reduced numbers on the weather.
“The ski areas do that and I think it’s more than that. The bottom line is, we’re seeing a reduction in numbers.”It’s possible the industry is still shunned because of the drought, Bradford said. “People are creatures of habit. We need to go out and remind them that rafting is something worth doing.”Foley said his company, which entertained 18,000 people on the Arkansas in 2003, attracts 30 percent of its customers from the Front Range, where some residents watch river flows the way they watch snow conditions during ski season. Guest numbers are down at Performance Tours despite aggressive pricing and marketing, Foley said.
Blue River boostPrivate boaters and five of Summit County’s commercial rafting companies are looking forward to a release from Dillon Reservoir that will boost flows on the Blue River through Silverthorne starting today.The water is due downstream to increase levels in Green Mountain Reservoir, but Denver Water decided to plan the release this holiday weekend to help the rafting industry. “It looks like people will show up,” Bradford said of early reservations for the release, which will continue through Monday. Flows are expected to peak at 700 cubic feet per second (cfs). The most popular section of Boulder Canyon, a Class III stretch, usually runs at only 50 cfs. “It will be a nice way to go out on the season.”Kim Marquis can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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