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Deadly summer on the river

Brief by Central Staff

Recreation – August 2007 – Colorado Central Magazine

Deadly summer on the river

Did the Grim Reaper hire on as a guide on the Arkansas River this summer? The statistics point that way, with a record number of fatalities well before the main rafting season ends on Aug. 15.

As of July 6, five people had died on commercial raft trips in 2007, considerably more than in recent years: three in 2000; two in 2001; none in 2002, ’03, and ’04; one in 2005 and again in 2006.

No single section of the river was especially lethal, as the deaths occurred all along the rafting stretch from the Numbers above Buena Vista to the Royal Gorge. The river has been running a fair amount of water this summer, but it hasn’t been breaking any records, so high flows can’t be blamed.

Stew Pappenfort of Salida, safety ranger for the Arkansas River Headwaters Recreation Area, pointed out that “The nature of the sport is to try harder rapids and, as with any sport, there is a risk. With rafting, there is the risk of an unplanned swim,” and “swimming in the river is difficult for anybody.”