As Climate Warms, Rafters and Fishermen Eye an Uncertain Future in the Upper Arkansas River Valley


The Arkansas River outside Buena Vista, Colo.

Outdoor sports dominate the Upper Arkansas River Valley, with attractions like white water rafting and fly fishing drawing tourists from across the country. With climate scientists predicting reduced flow as the century unfolds, the region could face a future with less water.

For visitors seeking an adventurous Colorado outdoor experience, look no further than Chaffee County.

“Most notably,” says Brandon Slate, who runs the Buena Vista-based Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center, “is our kayak and standup paddle school. We teach people how to do those activities. We also do white water raft trips, rock climbing, and mountain biking trips as well.”

The Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center is one of many outfitters along the upper Arkansas River.

“We like to say, ‘Choose your own adventure,'” Slate says.

Just shy of 30 miles south of Buena Vista along Route 285 and the Arkansas River is the town of Salida. Judy Perham has lived there for almost nine years. On their way to lunch, Perham and her friend lean against the side of a bridge, drinking in the sight of the Arkansas and the snowcapped peaks in the background.

“I didn’t realize how much a river could mean to me until I moved out here,” Perham says. “It just really touches my soul, and I just enjoy it. I mean, I love it.”

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