Frustrated by the lack of clarity about when commercial rafting and other outdoor tours can begin, the owner of one rafting company is making his feelings known at his downtown Durango kiosk.
“We decided to do a silent protest as a result of not having any clear pathway to opening,” said David Moler, owner of Durango Rivertrippers & Adventure Tours. “Given that we haven’t been provided clear guidance and a pathway to open, we decided to do a silent protest.”
He noted commercial rafters in Chaffee County have been granted a variance from COVID-19 restrictions to run the Arkansas River, but rafting companies in La Plata County remain in limbo about when their season can begin.
“Time is of the essence. The river’s dropping fast and so is our sanity and the health of my team and myself,” Moler said.
Cardboard signs taped on the kiosk included: “Will Raft 4 Food,” “47 Unemployed,” “Forgotten Industry,” “Open Up the Outdoors,” “Outside is Essential” and “Closed by order of the governor.”
Moler said he is working with La Plata County, the Durango Chamber of Commerce and a consortium of business organizations on a variance with the state that would allow the county to open outdoor businesses on its own schedule adapted to the local situation with COVID-19, but he does not know if or when the state will rule on the variance.
Moler said the variance was guided by input from San Juan Basin Public Health.
“We feel that we have a really great variance request that would allow for 50% capacities on transportation and rafts and still allow people to get outside and recreate safely,” he said.
Durango Rivertrippers, he said, has been working to adapt procedures to ensure sanitation and safety based on a self-certification checklist issued by SJBPH.
It seems illogical, he said, to allow private parties to raft and kayak on rivers but not allow commercial operations with trained guides who follow strict safety procedures on the river.
“You can’t hire somebody to professionally guide you down. That makes no sense to me. We can follow all the guidelines set forth by the state and local authorities to reopen – everything from capacity limits to temperature checks to social distancing,” he said.
Demand for raft trips and other outdoor recreational tours is low given the COVID-19 pandemic, but Moler said there are requests for runs from locals and frequent visitors to Southwest Colorado from surrounding states.
Durango Rivertrippers is not advertising to bring tourists into the region, Moler said. Rafting companies, he said, can operate safely with moderate numbers on tours to meet existing demand. He said that would help both people already on the river and rafting companies looking to make the best of the 2020 season.
“We’re really in a position to say that we operate outside. We are professionals in what we do. We have taken appropriate measures set forth by state and local authorities. We’re ready to provide a safe experience to locals and visiting guests alike.”