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Southern Colorado rafting industry expects a return to normal this summer

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CANON CITY, Colo. (KRDO) -- Whitewater rafting companies say that the COVID-19 pandemic didn't affect them as much as you might think in 2020 and 2021, and are hoping for more of a return to normal for the upcoming summer season.

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The increased interest in outdoor activities actually kept the industry fairly busy during the pandemic; rafters weren't required to wear masks and raft capacity was reduced to promote social distancing.

Rafting companies also continued to keep equipment clean and sanitized to limit COVID transmission.

"We were below average in 2020 but slightly above normal last year," said Will Colon, co-owner of River Masters in Cañon City. "That was because so many people were eager to get outside and do things. The indicators for this season are positive so far. Our average is around 19,000 rafters from May through September."

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The situation was slightly better for Echo Canyon River Expeditions, just west of town.

"Last year was the best season we've ever had," said general manager Ben Sack.

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The industry hopes for even more success this year, with an average water level expected despite the region's ongoing drought.

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"But that can change depending on a variety of factors," Sack said. "There are municipalities and irrigators drawing water from the river, and then there's and Mother Nature -- when it gets hot, how hot and how fast. But we're not worried about it."

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Colon said that the industry could actually benefit from the drought.

"To make sure that people who depend on water get it, some water could be held back in upstream reservoirs," he said. "That would give the river a more consistent flow during the season. We'd rather have that, than have most of it come before the peak of summer season."

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Rafting companies also share the challenges of other employers -- coping with higher costs for fuel and supplies, trying to find enough workers and paying them enough to keep them.

"I'll have a staff of 20 to 25," Colon said. "I'd like to have 10 to 15 more, but you can't hire just anyone to be a rafting guide. You have to have a certain degree of professionalism. We'll have to pass some of our increased costs on to customers. But you can still get a half-day trip for under $100."

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Sack said that June is the best month for rafting.

"The water will be great and it'll be less crowded," he said.

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.

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