For rafting companies, wildfires cause options to dry up, even close up shop |

For rafting companies, wildfires cause options to dry up, even close up shop

Rafters head down the Roaring Fork River earlier this summer.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Local rafting companies have been hit hard by the Grizzly Creek Fire.

At a time of year when the Roaring Fork River is typically too low for raft trips, the reliable flows of the Colorado River are off limits thanks to the Grizzly Creek Fire having shut down Glenwood Canyon.

Though most companies are taking a day-to-day approach to business, one has decided to close for the rest of the season.

“We’re already starting to clean rafts,” said Whitewater Rafting manager J.C. Thompson.

Potential risks in the canyon and uncertainty about air quality were some of the deciding factors.

“Even if they were to get the fires out and open (Interstate 70), we’ve just come to the conclusion that it probably wouldn’t be the safest to drive through the canyon. … Now we’ve got to worry about the mudslides and rockslides. Also we don’t know how the quality of air’s going to be. … We don’t want to put our guests in any kind of danger, let alone our staff,” Thompson said.

Two companies are offering 1 p.m. trips on the Roaring Fork River.

“We’re typically doing 1:00 trips this time of year, but not on the Roaring Fork, we’re typically on the Colorado. At this point we’re adjusting because we can’t really run trips in the morning because of that smoke. So we’re just running trips in the afternoon, just kind of playing it by ear,” said Zach Neal, manager at Blue Sky Adventures.

Despite the Roaring Fork not being able to offer the thrill of the Colorado River’s rapids, people have been receptive to the trips.

“We’ve had very good feedback from people going on the Roaring Fork. There’s a lot of people who already had their vacation planned, and they’re here, and they just want to get out and do something,” Neal said.

The Roaring Fork is currently running about 500 cubic feet per second, and that requires a change in equipment.

“With the canyon closed we’re doing an alternative half-day trip on the Roaring Fork River. We’re switching over from rafts to paddleboats with paddles since the water’s a little too shallow for oars,” said Colton Sickles, who works in reservations for Glenwood Canyon Rafting.

The two companies have been coordinating to make the best of the situation.

“We’ve been working with Blue Sky Adventures for a lot of it, combining those trip times and making sure everything is under one, I guess you could say ‘outfit,’ to make things operate smoothly,” Sickles said.

Two other companies are temporarily closed and holding out hope to get back on the Colorado River later this summer.

“We’re just kind of on hold as we feel out what’s going. … We’re taking it one day at a time right now,” said Logan Bartek, manager at Glenwood Adventure Co. “Most of our activities are in the canyon, and because of that we don’t have much to offer now. … All our land activities take place on Bair Ranch, which is completely evacuated right now.”

Glenwood Adventure Co. may also start running Roaring Fork trips.

“We’re hoping to get reopened on (the Roaring Fork) as soon as we can … (but there’s) not a lot of demand for that trip right now. … We’re just taking a little break,” Bartek said.

Defiance’s theme song could be “See You in September.”

“September is traditionally a pretty awesome time out there on the water between the weather being favorable and the light being what it is; we really enjoy late-season rafting. We’re holding out some hope we can get some weeks in September and close it out right,” said Gregory Cowan, owner of Defiance Rafting Co.

He sees parallels between COVID in the early season and the fire now.

“So much of this season has required the ability to adapt and respond to the variables that are presented, and the fire is no exception to that. … It’s just another challenge we have to respond to,” Cowan said.

Up The Creek Rafting could not be reached for comment for this story.

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