“It’s scary how things can happen, but it’s here,” said Tom Kleinschnitz, owner of Adventure Bound River Expeditions in the Grand Valley.
If a resolution isn’t reached by early Saturday morning (April 9), Kleinschnitz has orders to dock the boats. Already faced with high-dollar investments in high tech rafts designed to navigate the Class 5 rapids in Cataract Canyon in Utah, and faced with rising insurance costs to provide millions of dollars worth of coverage, Kleinschnitz and others like him are faced with the potential of canceling high-income raft trips booked weeks and months in advance by local residents and tourists eager to take advantage of snowpack that’s about 130 percent of the 20 year average in the Colorado River Basin. When the snow melts in April and May, it produces wild rides that can mean the difference between profit and loss for rafting companies that pull in the bulk of their income in the May—September period. River flows generally peak in late May or early June in the Colorado, Gunnison, and Green River basins.
Kleinschnitz’s fate is likely the tip of the iceberg. Tourism is one of the major drivers of the Mesa County economy, and the prime season is just beginning. The industry was declared the number one industry in Mesa County in the late 1990s, and local tourism officials still think it’s one of the top industries. If tourists don’t come to the western Colorado to tour parks or raft rivers, they might not be here to pay camping fees, book hotel rooms, eat in restaurants or shop at Cabela’s.
And if the tourism picture looks bleak in Mesa County, consider what people in Moab, Utah are thinking. If Arches and Canyonlands National Parks close down during the height of the mountain bike season, Moab loses much of its appeal for the month of April. It faces the same threat of a cease in river rafting, with brings in high dollars May—August.
“And imagine how this affects the Grand Canyon,” said Kleinschnitz. Anyone holding permits to raft the Grand Canyon or even Westwater Canyon in Utah would be forced to scrap their plans if the government shuts down.