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Limited Closure on Arkansas River

Posted: 06/03/2014
by Nathan Fey

Buena Vista, Colorado - On Friday May 30, Colorado State Park's Arkansas River Headwaters Association (AHRA) announced that it closed the Arkansas River at the new Silver Bullet Boat Chute. The announcement triggered a number of concerns from the private boating community. After meeting with AW and Colorado Whitewater, river managers reversed its decision - acknowledging that the closure does not apply to kayaks and canoes under State Statutes.

FROM AHRA: Dear Outfitter and Private Boating Community,

For the protection of public health, welfare and safety, AHRA is closing the river section between Buena Vista (bottom of the whitewater park) and Wilderness Aware launch boat ramp until further notice. The Helena Diversion Structure (aka Silver Bullet, aka Buena Vista Boat Chute) is causing significant issues in the third wave of the boat chute and also the re-entry eddy at the bottom of the portage trail.

AHRA is working on launch options near Johnson Village. AHRA will notify you as soon as a compromise for launching within this section has been determined.

Due to private property between this stretch, whitewater trips above Buena Vista will need to end at Buena Vista boat ramp and no trips can launch at Buena Vista to travel downstream. Buena Vista's Whitewater Park is available.

After receiving several complaints from paddlers, American Whitewater worked with AHRA to schedule a meeting of commercial outfitters and members of Colorado Whitewater and State Parks leadership to discuss the closure. 


On Monday June 2, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Updated its Decision with the following Press Release:


SALIDA, Colo. - Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) continue to monitor conditions near the Silver Bullet Boat Chute and are urging all whitewater boaters to exercise caution in that area.

The AHRA has placed use restrictions on a two mile section of the Arkansas River over safety concerns due to a recently constructed diversion structure and boat chute. The restrictions do not apply to whitewater canoes and kayaks, but CPW strongly advises all boaters avoid the area until further notice.

The section of river is near Johnson Village and is adjacent to private property, limiting the ability of boaters to portage the hazard. Recent high water levels have compromised the reentry point of the portage trail, making it temporarily unusable. In addition, the diversion structure and the associated boat chute is creating a large strong hydraulic that could lead to capsizing.

"The decision to place restrictions on that section of the river was made after careful consideration and discussion with several parties, including the whitewater engineering firm who designed the boat chute," said Rob White, AHRA Park Manager.

Colorado State Statute 33-13-111 gives CPW the authority to prohibit the operation of vessels on any state waters when there is a hazard to human life or safety. However, whitewater canoes and kayaks are exempt in this situation. Those who choose to boat this section of the river must have a Type I, Type III, or Type V Coast Guard approved personal floatation device and AHRA staff also recommends the use of a whitewater designed helmet.

AHRA has talked with representatives from the AHRA Citizen Task Force, the Colorado River Outfitters Association, the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, American Whitewater and Colorado Whitewater to discuss the conditions that would lead to the future removal of the use restrictions.

“We recognize that river closures can be put in place when necessary and in accordance with state statute, to protect public safety and reserve the resources of emergency personnel. Under the current condition, AHRA is not closing the river to all users, and it's important to understand that at these flows the feature requires paddling finesse and that portage options are non-existent,” said Nathan Fey, Director, Colorado River Stewardship Program, American Whitewater. “Our hope is that paddlers understand and respect the specifics of this closure, and are willing to work with AHRA to address the constraints and opportunities of this particular situation."

"We appreciate AHRA's prompt response to our concerns about whitewater kayak and canoe access to this section of the river and recognize the hazard the diversion structure presents to certain whitewater boaters," said Patrick Tooley, Board Member of Colorado Whitewater. "As always, we look forward to continuing cooperative discussions on river issues with AHRA as they arise."

Once water levels recede and access is again available to the portage trail, AHRA plans to coordinate the necessary repairs to the portage trail so that the current use restrictions can be lifted. AHRA will also work with the whitewater engineering firm who designed the boat chute to implement any necessary changes needed to try to reduce the likelihood of any future problems with this structure during high water events.

"We will continue to closely monitor the situation and update the public as much as possible throughout the process," White said.
Signs have been posted in the area and AHRA Land and River Rangers will be on patrol to advise people of the potential hazard.

The AHRA continues to offer 150 additional miles of Arkansas River whitewater boating opportunities for the boating enthusiast, including the availability of whitewater parks that can be found in Buena Vista, Salida and Canon City.

For more information about Colorado Parks and Wildlife go to:

Colorado Stewardship Director
Nathan Fey
1601 Longs Peak Ave.
Longmont, CO 80501
Phone: 303-859-8601

Associated Rivers