Rafting takes a hit

Safety restrictions and low water flow frustrate river tours

By Jesse Moya
jmoya@taosnews.com
Posted 6/13/20

Rafters have been hitting the rapids this week and making up for over two months of missed river runs due to state health restrictions related to COVID-19.With about …

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Rafting takes a hit

Safety restrictions and low water flow frustrate river tours

Posted

Rafters have been hitting the rapids this week and making up for over two months of missed river runs due to state health restrictions related to COVID-19.

With about three months left in the season, rafting companies around Taos are hard-pressed to get back the summer lost. Still, rafting companies are back to business and taking customers down the river as safely as possible to adhere to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's public health order.

"It has been very interesting and frustrating but mostly frustrating," said Los Rios River Runners founder Cisco Guevara. "When the closure happened, we realized that rafting is in danger. We have social-distancing issues."

Rafting companies took a hit in March when the governor announced the closure of all nonessential business. The industry then realized that opening back up would be difficult since people in rafts are not able to stay six feet apart at all times. Rafts will be adhering to the governor's order and will be keeping groups limited to five people.

"The BLM has implemented the group-size restrictions, added social-distancing guidelines at boat ramp launch sites on the Río Chama and recreation sites and will mark the launch sites to separate user groups," said Bureau of Land Management public affairs specialist Jillian Aragon.

Guevara said in order to comply with the governor's order, companies like his are sanitizing and cleaning boats after each run and requiring their employees to wash their hands frequently.

In addition, parties on the river will not be mixed in different boats. A party of two will not be combined with a party of three in the same boat. However, boats will adhere to the governor's order keeping groups smaller than five.

"Since opening we have experienced a bit of interest in getting out there [on the river]," said Will Blackstock of Far Flung Adventures. "It's a fraction of where it normally would be."

Far Flung is adhering to social-distancing practices as well as the governor's order. The company also offers single rides such as kayaks and paddleboards for those looking to avoid the crowds.

Rafting companies closed temporarily due to the health order just before getting the major boom of the spring break crowd and have also been hit by a loss of water flow from the previous year.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the water flow of June 2019 was nearly double the cubic feet per second flow it is currently at. The flow in 2019 was around 2,000 cfs for the month, compared to the levels of 2020, which have not peaked above 1,000 cfs yet.

"It's not as big, or as good as last year," Blackstock said.

The emergency order also mandated the closure of restroom and camping facilities in the areas where rafting companies launch, giving an additional challenge to companies and their customers.

Portable toilets have been installed in some areas, but permanent restroom facilities remain closed in Taos despite the BLM's recent press release stating they will begin to open. Aragon said the restroom facilities in Pilar and Orilla Verde will not be opened.

Despite the lull, companies are back on the river and are encouraging their customers to catch a ride while the season lasts.

Guevara said his business would not be here to serve the customers had it not been for business loans granted to the company during the COVID-19 shutdown.

A normal busy day at Los Rios brings in over 150 people, according to Guevara. This year's busiest day so far brought in fewer than 20 people.

"We didn't get into this as a business decision," Guevara said. "We got into it because it's a calling. We love the river."

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