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Royal Gorge outfitters want customers to know there is still plenty of whitewater

June 30, 2013 Updated: June 30, 2013 at 1:15 pm
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If you've visited the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park but haven't seen the stunning canyon from a raft, with a face full of ice-cold Arkansas River whitewater, you're missing out.

This summer, a lot of people are missing out.

The Royal Gorge fire burned 3,218 acres west of Ca?n City. It's not yet known if the bridge, which was spared, will reopen to the public this summer.

The impact on rafting outfitters in the area has been severe.

Tony Keenan, owner of Whitewater Adventure Outfitters, lost two days of rafting when the business was evacuated - two days that happened to be during the peak of the spring runoff.

"We refunded $8,000 just for the two days we were closed," Keenan said.

The Arkansas River was closed to rafting for nine days, as crews worked to remove debris from the river. Days after the fire, huge cables still were dangling from the ruins of the park's aerial tram high above.

While Keenan was able to take trips on upriver stretches, the Royal Gorge is the mainstay of his business and he took "a pretty big hit." Along with cancellations is the lack of new reservations and walk-in visitors, as this and other fires burning in Colorado made national news.

"Usually, Saturdays in June we're completely full. And we're not," he said.

The fires could not have been more ill-timed for rafting guides. Along with missing key days of high runoff, the industry still is recovering from the summer of 2012, which saw very low river flows and lackluster business because of the Waldo Canyon fire and other blazes that made national news. It's been the roughest stretch in his 22 years of guiding trips on the river.

Rafters were able to return to the Royal Gorge nine days ago. River flows, though past their peak, remain high, and Keenan is optimistic the summer can be salvaged.

"I hope things start to return more to normal, in at least a rafting sense, if not in an overall tourism sense," he said.

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