GUNNISON-CRESTED BUTTE, Colo.
— After the snowiest ski season on record with 421 inches at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the snowmelt is making its way down local rivers in Gunnison County and electrifying the local rafting and kayaking scene. High water levels also translate into projections of a banner summer and fall at Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado's largest body of water, and the entire Curecanti National Recreation Area west of Gunnison.
Scenic River Tours, with offices in Gunnison and seven miles up the Taylor Canyon, kicked off its season in the middle of May and is running trips on the Gunnison River and Taylor River. "It is the best, most exciting rafting you'll experience. We've only seen it like this four or five times in the last 20 years," exudes co-owner Matt Brown. "For the Taylor River, the higher water levels make it more fun and less rocky."
Brown serves on the board of directors for the Gunnison River Festival, which is scheduled for Aug. 14 – 16 and based at Gunnison Whitewater Park. The park's features were reworked in the fall and spring and are getting excellent reviews, he says. "It is the rage. People are loving it, and the word is getting out."
High temperatures and increased water flows this week prompted the National Weather Service to issue a flood watches and warnings in various areas of Colorado, including the East River, particularly in the Almont area of Gunnison County. The warning for the East River was lifted on May 22, and is not expected to be renewed in the near future, says Scott Morrill, manager of Gunnison County Emergency Management.
"We don't expect any problems for the foreseeable future. We do not anticipate any higher water in the East River than we have already seen based on National Weather Service and Colorado Water Conservation Board projections," Morrill notes. "Today is the start of a front moving in that will cool things off a bit and slow down the snowmelt."
Fortunately the warning has not translated into flooding, just noticeably higher water that has outfitters grinning and adjusting their plans a bit, in some cases bumping up age requirements for kids and altering routes slightly.
"Gunnison County is definitely on track to welcome visitors this Memorial Day weekend and in upcoming weeks. Not only are people flocking to the rivers and Gunnison Whitewater Park for some serious fun, Hartman Rocks Multi-Use Recreation Area in Gunnison is now fully open for biking and hiking, our museums have started greeting guests for the season, fisherman are out testing their skill and luck, and more," says Jane Chaney, executive director of the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association.