The Colorado River Outfitters Association held its annual convention earlier this month in Grand Junction. The organization, which represents about 50 licensed rafting outfitters across the state, said last year’s drop in user days — defined as a paying guest on a river for any part of a day — was the second-highest decline since the association began tracking the numbers in 1990. The biggest drop came in 2002, a season marked by drought and fire in Colorado; it also came in the wake of the 9/11 economic downturn. That year, user days were down 40 percent, according to the association.
The association’s annual report indicates that user days on the upper Roaring Fork River, a stretch that includes Slaughterhouse Falls below Aspen, plummeted from 6,672 in 2011 (a bountiful year for spring snowpack and river flows) to 112 last year. The decline on the Roaring Fork below Basalt was somewhat less pronounced — user days dropped from 912 in 2011 to 736 last year, the report said.
The upper Colorado River, including the popular stretch through Glenwood Canyon that includes the Shoshone rapid, actually saw an uptick in user days — from 32,842 in 2011 to 39,645 last year. Senior water calls on the Colorado kept the river flowing at decent levels throughout the season and attracted boaters who were displaced from other rivers…
Both the Colorado and Green rivers came through the 2012 season “unscathed,” according to the outfitters group.
The Arkansas River, on the far side of Independence Pass from Aspen and a destination for some local rafting companies, was also down in boater traffic last season, with 169,486 user days, compared with 208,329 in 2011…
Across Colorado, user days for rafting outfitters that are members of the statewide group numbered 411,100 last year. That translated to an economic impact of $127.5 million, down 15.7 percent from 2011, the Colorado River Outfitters Association calculated. The sum reflects user days, their direct expenditures on a rafting trip and the number of times those dollars are spent in a local area (2.56 times, according to the Colorado Tourism Board). Direct expenditures last year totaled $49.8 million, the outfitters association said.
The Arkansas River was the biggest economic generator in the Colorado rafting industry, with $20.5 million in direct expenditures last year, the association reported. The Colorado River in Glenwood was next, at $7.7 million. The Roaring Fork, including trips on all stretches of the river, generated about $102,000 in direct spending last year.