Rafting companies hoping for a good season in the West
DENVER – The Sledgehammer, Widowmaker and Boateater are some of Mother Nature’s top roller coasters in Colorado, and Christian Campton loves taking the ride.As the warm weather arrives, Campton’s Kodi Rafting takes tourists, oar in hand and life vests buckled, on white-knuckle rides through these twisting and sometimes bone-chilling rapids on the Arkansas and Colorado, among the state’s most scenic rivers.And reservations for Kodi’s rafting trips are up this year.
“I am thinking it’s going to be fantastic for us,” Campton said.After a devastating year in 2002, Colorado’s rafting industry is hoping for strong bookings this season. Winter storms left behind a healthy snowpack, and cool moist weather in May and June slowed the snowmelt, which will help extend the season.Reports from other parts of the West also were promising.Rafters in Montana had hoped for rain and snow in early June, which is typically a wet month, and they got it.
“It’s been like India here – the monsoons have hit,” said Denny Gignoux of the Montana Raft Company, whose company is based in West Glacier near the entrance to Glacier National Park.Like much of the nation’s tourist industry, Western raft companies were hit hard when travel dried up after the 2001 terrorist attacks. It got worse in Colorado the next summer during a severe drought and bad wildfire season. User days – the equivalent of one paying guest on a river for any part of a day – dropped to 319,502 in 2002 from 523,597 in 2001, according to a study compiled for the Colorado River Outfitters Association.The industry began to recover in 2003 thanks in part to a near-record March blizzard, but saw a bit of a dip last year, said the association’s Paul Witt.
“Travel is coming back,” he said. “There’s no reason not to expect a good year.”Temperatures in Washington were a little cooler than usual in early June, “which helps preserve our snowpack,” said Brad Sarver, who owns Blue Sky Outfitters, based in Seattle.He said reservations are about 40 percent ahead of last year, which was a record. He credited an aggressive marketing campaign for the increase and noted that the weather is less of a factor for his trips than in some other areas, because some of his rafting takes place on rivers where the water flow is controlled by dam releases.In Colorado, melting snow contributes about 80 percent of the water in rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs, which means rafters depend on it for their livelihood. In all, eight major Colorado river systems provide water to 10 Western states.
River rafting companies can choose from 13 river systems in Colorado, with the Arkansas, the Colorado, the Animas and the Poudre among the most popular, according to the association.Most offer trips on rivers ranging from easy to extreme, with some of the excursions designed for families. The season began May 1. Trips can be for part of a day, a full day or multiple days, with other activities included, such as camping, fly fishing, hiking and biking.Campton said he isn’t too concerned about the fire threat, something he has faced in years past.”Unless the wildfire is actually right where we boat, you’re in a pretty safe place,” he said.
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