Coronavirus flushed Colorado rafting in 2020 |

Coronavirus flushed Colorado rafting in 2020

Jason Blevins
The Colorado Sun
The Houlberg family of Atlanta goes rafting July 9, 2019, guided by KODI Rafting's Donny MacLachlan on a portion of the Blue River roaring at 1,690 cubic feet per second.
Photo from Courtesy KODI Rafting

DENVER — Colorado’s river communities endured a $36 million decline in commercial rafter spending in 2020, all flushed downriver in the pandemic.

Colorado’s rafting industry hosted 112,000 fewer commercial rafters last summer as pandemic restrictions and closures throttled one of the state’s most valuable tourism industries. That’s the steepest decline since the summer of 2002, when the snowpack was meager and wildfires raged across the state.

“We have had years with droughts and forest fires and recessions and now, guess what, here’s a pandemic to make us more resilient as small business owners,” said Jim Ingram, whose Aspen Whitewater Rafting saw rafting customers evaporate last summer.

The Colorado River Outfitters Association on Tuesday, April 27, released its 2020 rafting report — a couple months late due to pandemic-related slowdowns — showing a 21% decline in commercial rafting days on 29 stretches of Colorado rivers in 2020 versus 2019. The economic impact of last year’s 430,175 guided rafters was $148.7 million, down from $184.9 million in 2019. That economic decline was the worst since the recession-plagued summer of 2008, when rivers were running, but visitors weren’t spending.

The impacts of last summer’s declines in rafting traffic were not evenly distributed. Some rivers saw commercial rafting trips virtually disappear. The San Juan River near Pagosa Springs, which typically runs only in the late spring and early summer, saw zero commercial rafters last year. The Blue River saw 636 commercial rafting trips last summer, down from more than 11,000 in 2019.

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