Forest Service hopes meeting will ease tension at Shoshone |

Forest Service hopes meeting will ease tension at Shoshone

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

As the ski areas close and the spring runoff begins, local boaters have begun thinking about running the Roaring Fork and the Colorado Rivers.

And the U.S. Forest Service has begun thinking about how to better coordinate busy weekend days this summer at the put-in at the popular Shoshone section of the Colorado just east of Glenwood Springs.

“There are a lot of people trying to use the same area at the same time,” said Cathy Kahlow, who is the district ranger in the Eagle Ranger District and the acting recreation and engineering staff officer for the White River National Forest.

The parking and drop-off area and the boat ramp on the Colorado River that provide both commercial and private boaters access to the Shoshone rapids is regulated by the Forest Service. The agency has been working with local commercial rafting outfitters to try and reduce the congestion on the boat ramp during peak hours on peak days.

And now the Forest Service wants to meet with local private rafters and kayakers to talk about ways they can be more efficient when setting up to run Shoshone.

To that end, the Forest Service has hired a facilitator to survey local boaters and plans to hold a meeting in Glenwood on either Tuesday, April 22, in the evening or on Saturday, April 26, in the morning to talk about parking and boat-ramp congestion at Shoshone.

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“We want a better awareness among the private boating community about the efficiency and congestion issues, but we are not going to be implementing any new permits for them,” Kahlow said. “It is about awareness.”

What the Forest Service wants to convey to private boaters is that there is very limited parking at both the Grizzly and Shoshone areas and that on busy summer weekends the parking lot fills up early.

They also want private boaters to be aware that while they are welcome to use the concrete boat ramp that slopes down to the river at Shoshone, they also need to know that commercial rafting companies will be frequently surging through the area, often taking up most of the boat ramp with a mix of big rubber rafts and relatively clueless customers milling about in life jackets.

Because of this, sometimes there are conflicts between commercial rafting companies, their guides, their customers, and private boaters, who generally have a lower sense of urgency about rigging up and getting out on the river than commercial companies, who typically launch six or seven paddle boats at once.

The Forest Service has been working with commercial river outfitters in the area for the past two years. The agency has essentially capped the number of “person days” that existing rafting companies are allowed to run down the river over the summer.

And for this summer, the agency is working with the outfitters to get them to agree to limit the number of trips they can launch during any given window, or hour, during the peak days in the summer in an effort to lower the “cluster” factor on the Shoshone boat ramp.

“I think they are willing to try and be more efficient there,” said Kahlow of the commercial rafting community. “But they do want to be treated fairly as they are there for both business and fun.”

“We are trying to make it work,” agreed Kevin Schneider, the owner of Rock Gardens Rafting in Glenwood Springs. “There is friction anytime you have commercial or private users both using public land, but what creates most of our issues up there is that we are just limited in space. I wouldn’t say it is a common occurrence, but there are certain days when a lot of people are competing for use on the ramp.”

Schneider says he, and other outfitters, empathize with the private boating community, which has grown with the rise in popularity of both rafting and kayaking, especially on Shoshone because it is one of the more consistent, and fun, stretches of river within a 100 miles of Glenwood Springs.

“We’re all private boaters, too,” Schneider said. “And we do a pretty good job of trying to keep the ramp clean. More than anything, this is about being courteous on the ramp.”

And while a bit reluctant to do so, Schneider did eventually point out some of the dumb things that some private boaters do, such as driving their trucks right down the upper section of the ramp, or off-loading their equipment onto the narrow sidewalk that leads to ramp – right in the way of the next bus of commercial rafting customers to pull up.

These, and other types of moves, such as slowly blowing up boats in the middle of the ramp, can cause some tension on a hot and busy July day.

Kahlow was hoping this week to firm up the potential dates to meet with private boaters. She said most of the commercial outfitters she has been working with will also be there and she’s hoping for a positive exchange between the commercial and private boating factions.

“What I would really like people to focus on is working together so they can have fun when they are on the river,” Kahlow said.

For more information, boaters can call the Forest Service office in Glenwood Springs at 945-2521.