Colorado River Fish Audubon Rockies
Audubon Rockies river rafting

Photo: Peter Arnold
Photo: Peter Arnold

Western Rivers Initiative

Rivers Are More Than a Nice Place to Visit

Healthy rivers aren't just great for birds, recreation, and wildlife; they help business thrive.

Healthy, flowing rivers provide sustenance to the land and habitat for wildlife.  They’ve allowed a means for humankind to develop commerce, agriculture, exploration, energy and recreation.  I can see a day when water is the valuable commodity petroleum is now.

Being an avid outdoors person while making a career in the outdoor industry and co-owning a rafting equipment supplier puts me in an interesting position.  On one hand our business needs energy and a good economy, which takes resources.  On the other hand, our business also needs a healthy, accessible outdoor environment.  One that provides a river experience that our customers can visit, will want to re-visit, and continue exploring.  There are a few basic things that need to fall into place for our customers and future customers to experience the “river life”. 

First, there needs to be a desire to go to the river.  I think most people are attracted to the river for a combination of adventure, history and wildlife habitat.  Our staff and customers thrive on the allure of the “river life”.  Part of this desire is nourished by healthy river systems with abundant wildlife such as birds, fish, and bighorn sheep, just to name a few. 

Audubon Rockies Colorado River Grand Canyon rafting
Rafting on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Photo: Pete Arnold

Second, our rivers must flow, which seems straightforward, right?  Well not quite.  We’ve seen successes and challenges in river basins like the Dolores.  Last season we had a fantastic boating season due to Mother Nature’s abundance of snow and the efforts of American Whitewater and Dolores River Boating Advocates.  This season, by contrast, the McPhee dam managing agency won’t release a drop of water for the ecology of the river basin or recreation due to senior water rights.  See the DRBA home page for more info about the issues on the Dolores.

Finally, people need to have river access.  With the growing popularity of river sport combined with more river sections being regulated by permits, limited public access points, and confusing adjacent land owner rights, river runners need to be more creative than ever. 

Down River has had some success lately, mainly due to a strong economy, generally good river flows nationwide, a passionate staff, and lots of new customers looking for the “river life”.  The Rocky Mountain region is in the middle of a boom. Newcomers are moving here to live, work and recreate.  They want to mountain bike, hike, hunt, fish, bird, and run rivers.  Down River’s biggest opportunity is to help our customers find healthy and accessible river sections off the beaten path to experience the “river life”.  Our biggest challenges are access and water flow.  Unfortunately, an unintended consequence of humankind’s development is the trampling of the very thing that has been such an integral part of our success.  In fact, you still see people watering golf courses in the middle of the desert, throwing waste in our waterways, and stringing barbed wire across stream beds. 

The relationship between Down River and the river environment is obvious.  If people go to the river, they need the gear and expertise Down River offers.  There’s also a connection to industries not directly linked to a healthy, flowing river.  People enjoy living in areas where they can enjoy the outdoors.  They work for companies that are in areas with easy access to a healthy outdoor environment.  A healthy, flowing river system is part of a healthy environment.  If the desire or access to those outdoor activities diminishes, so does the reason to be in an area.  A consequence is that all the businesses in the area will struggle.  So, keeping a healthy river environment is not only great for the environment, recreation, and wildlife; it helps business thrive.

What can we all do?  Join organizations, like Audubon Rockies, and support businesses, like Down River Equipment, that care for our environment and healthy rivers.  And vote for politicians that are like-minded when it comes to protecting our environment and public access to it.

See Down River Equipment’s partner page for more info about some of these organizations.

Phil was originally introduced to paddling in Wisconsin but was really turned on to river running while living in Gunnison working as a river guide for Three Rivers in 1989.  He fell in love with the sport and proceeded to paddle everything around the Gunnison and Crested Butte area until 1999 when he moved to Denver and started working at Down River Equipment.  When not on the river or at Down River Equipment, Phil helps out instructing Colorado Mountain College’s ski mountaineering school, backcountry skiing, cycling, or figuring out how to keep up with his wife, Carol. Phil’s favorite thing about Down River Equipment? “I really enjoy helping people get prepared for their next river adventure. It’s a great feeling knowing they leave Down River Equipment with all the information and gear to make their trip amazing!”

Down River Equipment is the Source for All Your River Equipment. Best known for rowing frames, Down River also produces rafting accessories such as rigging gear, dry boxes, pumps and river camping gear, all of which is made in Colorado, USA. Down River is a full service provider of river equipment.


How you can help, right now