No pessimism among paddlers |

No pessimism among paddlers

SUMMIT COUNTY – A few years of accumulated drought effects left local boaters up a creek – with a paddle, but without much water through which to pull it.

This year, however, record snowstorms have whitewater outfitters and private boaters, well, giddy.

When the Colorado River Outfitters Association gathered for its annual meeting in February, the group was optimistic, said chairman John “Highside” Cantamessa, owner of Highside Adventure Tours and Good Times Rafting. And that was before the month’s late-coming, relief-bearing blizzard.

“It’s looking good,” Cantamessa said. “The water’s back, and that’s a good thing. For the most part, everybody’s excited and optimistic.”

Water levels in popular boating rivers around the state were dismal in 2002. Outfitters also suffered from the impacts of wildfires – especially after Gov. Bill Owens’ comment that “all of Colorado is burning” and a subsequent decline in summer tourism.

Rafting company owners said they’re hoping a year of famine for paddlers will turn into a feast this spring. KODI Rafting owner “Campy” Campton said there’s likely a pent-up demand in the mountains and on the Front Range.

“We missed out on a lot of local rafters – they knew the conditions,” Campton said. “With a year off, I think everybody will be amped to raft and have a good time.”

Rafting companies have already begun advertising for seasonal guides, and training courses are set to begin this month. Several outfitters said they’re already taking reservations for trips and expect to be in full swing shortly.

The whitewater business has challenges in addition to water, though. In years past, “right to float” debates had outfitters anxiously eyeing the capitol. The debates stem from conflicts between private landowners with water rights on rivers that run through their property and boaters using the same channels. The issue has led to several antagonistic confrontations on the Western Slope. The debate has been shelved at the Legislature, though, as lawmakers deal with a budget crunch.

War might keep outfitters from reaping the full benefits of high-water marks.

“If we can get the war over, more people will be comfortable traveling,” Cantamessa said. “We take care of that, get some support from the tourism board and we’re looking at a nice summer.”

– Jane Stebbins contributed to this story.

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or

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