FREMONT COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- Memorial Day weekend -- the start of Colorado's popular whitewater rafting season -- is just two weeks away. But with the state's continuing safer-at-home order, outfitters are wondering if officials will relax health restrictions and allow those businesses to reopen.
Most outfitters earn most of their money during the season's peak between the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. However, some opened earlier and were quickly forced to shut down because of health orders related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Outfitters like Raft Masters in Cañon City have submitted a list of safety and cleaning procedures to the governor's office and the state health department.
The owner of "Arkansas River Tours", Billy Marquis, says they're also waiting on an outfitting variance to be approved by the governor in both Fremont and Chaffee counties - as their hundred-mile river tours run through both areas.
Those rafting companies hope to be open by Memorial Day weekend - but if not by then, then by June 1st.
"We have basically 100 days to make our money for the year," said Will Colon, of Raft Masters, which has been in business since 1989. "The later we reopen, the more it'll hurt us. You can't plan for something like this."
Outfitters said they expect fewer visitors this year, especially since state tourism officials advised out-of-state visitors to avoid traveling to Colorado this summer because of COVID-19 concerns.
A decrease in visitors would be a considerable financial hit for rafting companies, most of which rely on out-of state tourists for more than half of their business.
"I understand why state tourism officials said what they did," said Alan Blado, owner of Liquid Descent Rafting, in two central Colorado locations. "We want to reopen, but we want to do it safely."
The industry expects to transport fewer people in buses, vans and rafts. It also expects more frequent trips down the Arkansas River and other popular rivers.
Outfitters plan to do more thorough cleaning of equipment and buildings.
On top of increased sanitization practices, they're also reducing the number of people on each raft.
Marquis says they usually have seven people on a raft plus a guide.
Fremont and Chaffee County Health Departments have suggested that number be reduced to 5 on a raft - which would still be less than the governor's overall direction of limiting groups to ten people or less.
Individuals who own rafts are allowed to use them as long as they follow the state's social distancing and health guidelines.
Colorado Parks & Wildlife recommends that people contact their county health department for more information, as restrictions may differ from county to county.
Outfitters said the water condition of many rivers is perfect going into the season, and hope it doesn't go to waste because of impacts of the virus.
Marquis says those who do come out to raft this season are in for an experience like none they've had any other season.
“Overall, I think the customer's experience is going to be enhanced," says Marquis. "We're going to have to separate people and space them out more. It won't be a crowded environment. You're going to have more space with yourself and the outdoors...it's going to be more personalized."