Arkansas River Guide, 1996

ISBN 0-9634799-1-1

Posted June 2002

Water levels in the Arkansas River in the summer of 2002 have been very low. The basin's snowpack was, from one source, around 22%. River level this first week of June approximate those of late August during normal seasons.

It has come to my attention that a particular rapid north of Buena Vista has been causing big problems at low water. Frog Rock Rapid at mile 14.2 is easy at higher water. Indeed, seeing this place then, you don't realize there will be a problem. You just go left, and may not even identify it as a rapid. But it turns out that low water goes mostly down the far right and piles up against two rocks that form a line halfway across the river from the right. The problem happens if you don't make the cut, or if somebody is swimming. There's a gap between rocks. A substantial portion of the river flows through that gap, and immediately piles up against another rock. A trip through the slot would be violent enough, but it's also narrow enough that it can hold small logs or other debris, creating a deadly trap for anyone in the water. The cut would be difficult to make. You could do it, but you'd have to be quick and precise. There are several places where shallow rocks could grab your boat and spin it, putting you out of control and headed for the slot.

State park management is strongly encouraging boaters at low water to portage Frog Rock on the left, and signs to this effect will be posted at launch areas upstream. I went there on June 1 to photograph, and commercial rafts were landing above and having the passengers walk down the bank while the guide bumped the boat down over the rocks on the left side.

Frog Rock Rapid, mile 14.2, which is benign at medium water levels but which is a problem at low water.

This photo was taken on June 1 of a drought year (2002), when the river would normally be several feet higher.

Posted February 2002

The largest controversy on the Arkansas River this spring involves the possible permitting of the Brown's Canyon section. Nobody appears to want this, but state park personnel apparently believe the time is near. Several years ago, limits were set such that if those limits were ever exceeded, some sort of plan to limit numbers in Brown's would be instituted. Those limits were exceeded on several days last season, so discussion has begun on what to do. Institution of a permit system has already been delayed from 2002 to 200?

I have attended three meetings on the subject. Parks personnel stated the numbers situation. Private boater groups have countered that privates are only 9 percent of the total in Brown's, so why are they the ones targeted? Other comments have been directed at whether numbers of people or numbers of boats should be counted—currently it is numbers of boats, though many believe it should be people. Right now, one person in a kayak or two in a raft count the same as a whole boatful of commercial rafting customers.

Rob White, manager of Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) in Salida said consideration is being given to "hardening" a site somewhere in Brown's. Access is needed across some private land to service restrooms, but he thinks this will be possible. Then, various facilities such as picnic tables can be installed, and some work can be done along the bank to reduce erosion from all the rafts and people. Concentrating the stops people make in Brown's would be the objective.

I believe that any permitting system would be extremely cumbersome not only for private boaters, but for AHRA as well. Complying with such a system would be bad. Enforcing it would be a nightmare. Private boating in Brown's is actually said to have decreased a little, so this permitting solution seems far worse than the problem. Could it be a solution to a problem that doesn't exist, or at least a problem that could be resolved in a much more satisfactory way?

Efforts might better be directed toward education about avoiding certain busy weekends, about protecting the river environment, and toward the hardening of a site in Browns so that fewer random stops would be made. Much of this education should also be directed toward commercial customers, which now fill 91 percent of the boats there. Most of them go right on through without touching the bank, but others stop for lunch. We know what probably happens then.

Updates through December 2000.

Abandonment of the railroad tracks has not officially happened. Trains don't seem to run, except for a sight-seeing train that goes through the Royal Gorge. But neither is the line available for "Rails to Trails" status.

Should that ever happen, the effect would be to maintain the corridor against future need as a railroad route. Meanwhile, the railroad corridor would be available as a trail for hiking and biking, managed by the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.

Many people here have wanted this to happen. One guy doesn't, and wrote to the local newspaper that he doesn't mind trains roaring by his house at all hours of the night, but he hates the idea of hikers on the railroad corridor! Go figure.

High water in 1995 seems to have made several changes in the river. Sunshine Falls in the Royal Gorge and Big Drop in Brown's Canyon both changed. In addition, Seidel's in Brown's Canyon is a bit different. Guides say it's easier now.

The "new" Sunshine Rapid in the Royal Gorge is still flipping boats, though there were some who said the rapid is "just a class II now." Baloney! It's a solid IV, though it didn't change any more after 1995.

Pieces of steel have been removed from the river at these places: The old Granite dam, above the Harvard Lakes bridge, the diversion dam below Buena Vista, Three Forks Rapid (the piece that stuck up there), and Dire Straits in the Royal Gorge.

At Three Forks, a flash flood came out from the right and made a bigger gravel fan. Some steel remains, but there is less.

The Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area continues to make improvements at several river access areas. This is what has happened:

A Numbers launch site has existed for several years, now. To get there, you turn off Highway 24 near milepost 200 as if to cross Scott's Bridge, which is at river mile 6.4. Cross the tracks, but not the bridge. Turn north (upstream) and go nearly a mile. There, you will find a Numbers launch. It used to be the "stealth" launch site, but you get to it a different way now. Costs a buck, or a parks pass. Big deal! You can put your boat in the water. It's money well spent.

Boat chute at the Numbers launch

There is improved highway access to these river access areas: Lone Pine, Pinnacle, Spikebuck, and Parkdale. There is improved parking and river access at Texas Creek.

These campgrounds have been improved: Ruby Mountain, Hecla, Rincon, and Five Points. There is now a camp at Railroad Bridge. Improvements have been made at Big Bend.

At Fisherman's Bridge, mile 24, a new boat slide to the river was constructed, and the old one rebuilt. Both slides are straight, without boat-dumping turns in them. There is also a "watchable wildlife" kiosk there, about wildlife that can be seen downstream.

Spike Buck, mile 87.5 has an interpretive display now. Improvements to the river access just upstream from Cotopaxi have been made.

Scott's Bridge, mile 6.4, no longer has two bridges. The unused, lower, "tumble-down" one was about to tumble into the river, so the state park people removed it in June of 2000.

The Royal Gorge takeout for privates is still Centennial Park on river-right. A new commercial takeout has been established on river-left behind the Dinosaur Depot and the old Santa Fe depot, from which the passenger trains depart for Gorge trips.

Christo has chosen the Arkansas River for his Over the River project. Here is a link to a Christo and Jeanne-Claude site, explaining what this is and where it would be. The map segment shown there is near Five Points Rapid, river mile 86 on the lower river, below the Salt Lick river access. Their project will not be all in one place, but will be at various points along the river below Salida. It will be up for a two-week period, "no earlier" than 2003, sometime between mid-July and mid-August. I would not put money on this date, but the intent seems to be there.

The city of Colorado Springs appears to favor drawing their water from Pueblo Reservoir, but they're possibly trying to keep their options open for a dam/diversion north of Buena Vista. A right-wing political climate prevails in that city so we can't relax, environmentally or otherwise. One suspects that their concern is not about whether they wreck the river, but about how much trouble we'd make for them if they try.

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