Monday, August 19, 2019

County closes sections of Gunnison and Slate rivers

“The priority is safety”

By Kendra Walker

Though it might be tempting with the warmer weather and disappearing snow, river recreation is on hold along particular stretches of the Gunnison and Slate rivers until further notice.

Due to dangerous, high-volume river conditions, the Gunnison River is closed between Almont and the Gunnison Whitewater Park.

The Slate River is closed between Gunsight Pass Bridge and the State Hwy. 135 bridge at mile marker 25.5.

The closure was issued by the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office to protect public safety.

“The priority is safety,” says sheriff John Gallowich. “So far we’ve had great compliance and people understand the risk.”

With all rivers and streams in Gunnison County continuing to run at rapid and high conditions, the character of this water is far different and more dangerous than during normal flows. “The above-average snowpack coupled with a cool, cloudy May has resulted in a rapid and strong runoff and high streamflows,” says Frank Kugel, general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.

The last time a similar closure occurred on the Gunnison River was June 7, 2017, coincidentally the exact date of this year’s closure, according to Gallowich.

The sheriff also explains when rivers get a higher volume of water, overhanging trees will get washed down, back-up water and get hung up at low bridges, endangering the structure of bridges with their pressure. This build-up of debris also puts rafters, kayakers and other recreational water users at serious risk of getting hit. “The risk of danger is high and if we do have an accident, we’re putting our rescue teams at risk as well,” Gallowich says.

The sheriff also warns that recreational users could easily become hypothermic this time of year. “The temperature of that water right now is ice. People aren’t going to last very long in there if they get into a dangerous situation.”

The sheriff’s office is also monitoring the areas surrounding the water-high rivers and nearby residential properties, but as of now there’s no serious concern.

Companies that typically run recreational trips along this stretch “have been great,” says Gallowich. “They recognize the danger.”

Mark Schumacher, owner of Three Rivers Outfitting, says the closures have impacted only their float and dine trip to Garlic Mike’s in Gunnison. “The Gunnison River should peak in the next 10 days and the river flows drop fast once the high snow is gone,” he says. “We will be back in business on the section of river for both rafting and fishing.”

As for when the rivers will open back up, “It’s a guessing game,” says Gallowich. He recalls the river closure in 2017 lasted at least 10 days. “We’re going to continue to monitor the rivers. Our goal is to open them as soon as we feel they can be safe.”

Until then, all recreational users are urged to avoid these closed sections at all cost and to use extreme caution on and around the water in the areas that are still open. Do your homework before you go, make sure you’re knowledgeable about what you’re doing and bring your safety gear.

For updates about the river closures, contact the Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office at (970) 641-8200.

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