Local outdoor businesses operating with slight modifications

By John Finefrock
Staff Writer

Commercial outdoor pursuits around Pagosa Springs continue to operate with slight modifications amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rafting season in Pagosa is already over, according to Aryanna Fulbright, office manager for Wilderness Journeys Pagosa.

Fulbright explained that May 28 was the first day the company offered a rafting trip after it was shut down due to COVID-19 and due to minimal snowfall last winter, the last rafting trip they did was on June 9. 

“We had a 12-day season,” said Kevin Metzler, owner of Wilderness Journeys.

Fulbright noted that generally for rafting, Wilderness Journeys will run trips when the river levels are above 450 cubic feet per second, or cfs, and sometimes when the local rivers are only above 400 cfs.

She said that for tubing trips, which the company currently offers, the ideal range for cfs is between 400 and 100.

“Under 100 we wouldn’t recommend [tubing],” she said.

As of Wednesday morning, the San Juan River at Pagosa Springs was running at 113 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Metzler explained that, for tubing, he believes he’s running the only shuttle in town.

“But it’s a private shuttle, so we are not co-mingling parties and groups,” he said, adding, “All equipment and vehicles are disinfected after use.”

Maddy Bergon, shop manager for Pagosa Outside, said they didn’t even run rafting trips this season but continue to offer tube rentals.

She explained the whole process can be done online “from reservations to waivers” to minimize in-person contact at the shop.

She noted staff is limiting the number of people in the store to no more than 10 at a time and their tubing shuttle is not operating.

“We’re trying to go all contact-less. So, everything’s online and folks are still getting outside and having fun,” she said.

Cynthia Toner, owner of Toner Ranch Outfitting, stated that her horseback riding business is “pretty steady compared to last year” and that in the last few weeks she’s seen an incredible number of tourists in the Upper Piedra area.

She said that her company has developed a “COVID mitigation protocol” that she submitted to the U.S. Forest Service, which detailed that she won’t mix groups, won’t allow more than 10 people per ride and will ensure social distancing throughout the experience.

Toner explained that participants don’t have to wear a mask on the ride and neither does the horse.

“We don’t transport any clients to the trailhead, they drive their own vehicle,” Toner said. “We encourage self-assessment coming on the activity — like if you’re feeling sick, please don’t come.”

Jon Reed, owner of Sportsman’s Campground, reported he’s already seeing a lot of people camping this year.

He explained masks are required in any public buildings in the campground, but even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, business is about at normal levels compared to years past.

He noted the horseback rides at the campground run by Crazy Horse Outfitters start right at the campground, so the outfitters don’t have to shuttle anyone to a trailhead.

He noted employees at the campground are always wearing masks and he’s put hand sanitizer “everywhere.”

Scott Taylor, owner/guide for High Country Fishing Charters, reported he’s slammed with reservations after he opened this year on May 17.

Asked how business was, he said Tuesday was his 26th day in a row of work.

“The first part of May hurt because they closed below the dam, so I had nowhere go,” he said. “So I had 45 days of nothing. I’m sucking it up and we’re doing good now.”

Taylor explained he’s implementing social distancing requirements, his clients are driving themselves to the fishing spots and he’s not providing lunches or drinks to clients as he normally has in past years.

Asked if he had a message for the general public, Taylor asked that visitors from out of town wear their face masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

This story was posted on July 1, 2020.