Rafting down Arkansas River safe despite first death of the season

CAÑON CITY, Colo. — The Fremont County Sheriff’s Office says a man accidentally drowned while rafting down the Arkansas River Sunday afternoon.

His name has not yet been released because he is from outside the country and officials are still trying to notify his family.

The rafting company involved is Royal Gorge Rafting out of Cañon City.

The water rafting accident is the first of the season and raises concerns of safety since it’s so early in the year.

Last year, a half a million people floated down the Arkansas River. In fact, it was a record year for commercial rafting companies.

It was also a pretty safe year for those companies, with just three commercial deaths reported along the Arkansas River.

“We start to see the runoff, the rivers get brown and cloudy, and all that sediment and stuff, snow melt comes down,” said Stew Pappenfort with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Pappenfort is the senior ranger for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. He said rafting down the Arkansas can be a fun and safe time.

“As long as you know the section you’re going on and maybe you’re going with someone who’s done it before, you’re probably going to get put in the right section of river at the right flows,” said Pappenfort.

He said guides go through extensive training before they ever take guests down the river.

“With the outfitters we do our best at Colorado Parks and Wildlife to make sure that everyone is running as per required by law and that we can make the sport as safe as possible,” said Pappenfort.

Parks and Wildfire says in 2015 and 2016, two people died each year on the Arkansas. Pappenfort says rafting is safer than riding a bike.

“Bicycling you’re messing with traffic, in the river you’re dodging rocks and trying to stay in the boats, so each sport, every sport has its own hazards,” said Pappenfort.

Floating down the Arkansas River is big business for Colorado. Last year, rafting companies hosted more than 550,000 guests.

The deadliest year on Colorado rivers was in 2014, when seven people died.

On average, Colorado Parks and Wildlife says three to five people are killed each summer.

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