Fire closes Royal Gorge to rafters
With much of news coverage focused on the Black Forest fire in Colorado Springs, less attention has been drawn to the Royal Gorge fire that has decimated park structures at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park and also closed portions of Highway 50 this week. While Highway 50 reopened Thursday evening, the popular Royal Gorge section of the Arkansas river remains closed to boaters. Cables from the tram that crosses the gorge have been damaged by the fire and have fallen into it.
Officials report that portions of the cable have also fallen into the river, preventing it from being reopened to whitewater traffic.
Sources within the fire information office, as well as the Arkansas Headwater Recreation Area, say that engineers will examine the downed cables today and access damage.
“We’re trying to figure out the best approach to removing those cables,” said Rob White, Arkansas Headwaters park manager.
He reported that the Arkansas will remain closed to boaters until further notice.
“We’re hopeful,” he said, in a phone interview.
Engineers will also assess damage to the bridge structure today. Early reports said that damage to the bridge was minimal.
Damage to the tram, however, was more complex than initially thought, according to Ann Jeffery from the Royal Gorge Fire information office.
A press release from the Arkansas River Outfitters Association (AROA) urges visitors to note that all other portions of the Arkansas River are open to rafting, and unaffected by the fire, including other popular stretches through Browns and Bighorn Sheep Canyons. River flow is at or near peak levels for the season and primed for boating.
April Prout with Chaffee County Visitors Bureau also said Thursday that the fire will not have any impact on the FIBArk whitewater festival in Salida this weekend.
The Royal Gorge accounts for only 17 miles of the 152 raftable miles of the Arkansas.
As of Thursday evening, the fire was reported to be 40 percent contained, updates are expected throughout the weekend.
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