From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):
Arkansas River rafting and summer tourism at the Royal Gorge Bridge took a huge hit in 2012. Rafting companies and the gorge posted doubledigit drops in visitors in a year marked by the summertime Waldo Canyon wildfire and low Arkansas River flow. Rafting took a nearly 19 percent dive, the worst year since droughtstricken 2002.
The number of boaters went from 208,329 in 2011 to 169,486 in 2012, according to a report by Colorado River Outfitters Association members Joe Greiner and Jody Werner. The decline in economic impact was not quite as harsh: about 16 percent. The dropoff in boating came during a summer marked by a weak economy, low water levels due to a drought and the wildfire. In 2002, visitation sank to 139,178. The rafting industry credits last year’s better numbers to a marketing push promoting the benefits of lowerflow rafting for firsttimers and families.
The industry’s outlook for this summer is brighter due to a slight upturn in the economy. However, the potential for continuing drought “weighs on the possibility of a full recovery,” the association reported.
According to the group’s 2012 report: Last summer, the rafting industry brought in $20.5 million in direct expenditures to the Arkansas River corridor and a total economic impact of $52.5 million when factors such as meals, lodging and gasoline are considered. In 2011, the industry created $23.8 million in direct expenditures and $60.9 million in economic impact.
“Colorado’s whitewater rafting industry took a solid hit in 2012. It was the largest drop we’ve seen since 2002 following similar drought and fire conditions throughout the state,” Greiner said in the executive summary. “The proactive education of consumers regarding the quality of lower water conditions helped improve river use over drought stricken 2002 levels.
“Many families were able to experience rafting for the first time and consumer reviews were extremely positive regarding the quality of the experience. Although the Arkansas River has guaranteed flow targets that are augmented by large upstream reservoirs, river use was affected by the Colorado Springs (Waldo Canyon) fire,” Greiner reported.
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