Idaho whitewater outfitters know what it’s like to have their seasons cut short from drought and lack of snow. They also know how fires and thick smoke can wreak havoc on a summer recreation season.
So when Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico are suffering through a drought and facing shorter river-rafting seasons, they know when to hunt for late-season customers. Having a few big fires capture national attention doesn’t hurt.
“If someone hears that there’s a drought in Colorado and parts of the Southwest, we just want them to know that Idaho's conditions are totally opposite,” said Coeur d’Alene’s Peter Grubb, owner of ROW Adventures. “Idaho’s going to be a popular spot because we’ll see a lot of private boaters coming up here from Colorado and Utah.”
The Idaho Division of Tourism put out a press release last week to highlight that the state’s nationally famous rivers — the Salmon, Hells Canyon, Middle Fork Salmon and Selway — are all hitting “ideal” levels. It reminds everyone that Idaho has more miles of whitewater river — about 3,250 — than any other state in the lower 48.
While Grubb points to his day trips on the Moyie River up north, Marty Smith of Three Rivers Rafting talks up rafting on the Salmon, Selway and Lochsa rivers. “This is the kind of year we wait for,” Smith said in the release.
Greg McFadden of Canyons — a Middle Fork and main Salmon outfitter who specializes in whitewater kayaking trips — said he understands the predicament in Colorado because he’s a ski guide there in the winter.
“Last year, the water was too high in June for some of our beginning kayakers, but this year, we won’t have to worry about that,” he said.
Their ace in the hole is Ron Abramovich, Idaho snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Boise. He’s the expert.
“Idaho is the place to go rafting this year since the rest of the West is struggling with low flows,” Abramovich said. “The mountains still have plenty of snow to sustain the river flows throughout the summer months.”
Idaho rivers that are fed by reservoirs, such as the Hells Canyon section of the Snake River and the Payette River, will have plenty of flow because reservoirs are full, Abramovich said. That will enhance rafting and jet-boat trips in Hells Canyon and world-class kayaking on the North and South forks of the Payette.
You have to give Idaho’s tourism folks credit for being nimble and jumping on the woes of others to take advantage of Idaho’s bounty of whitewater this season. Having more Idaho visitors means more sales taxes, which means more money for everything from schools to Medicaid services.
Earlier this month, the Western Governors released a report showing that recreation created $646 billion in national sales and services in 2011, nearly double the size of the pharmaceutical or auto industries.
If they had pushed Abramovich, he would have told them that Idaho whitewater seasons are going to come earlier and earlier in the year. Climate change might make late-season trips more difficult in Idaho.
It could be worse. The Southwest is simply running out of water.
That would suggest a good long-term investment might be in Idaho whitewater.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484