Thursday, June 4, 2020

New guidelines for whitewater boating during COVID-19, plus Redfish camprounds in the Sawtooth NRA open Friday

Quinn Stuebner nails the chute in Tappan Falls on the Middle Fork Salmon River
Hi all,

It's been good to see the number of new coronavirus cases declining in Idaho, allowing Gov. Little to continue re-opening the state to larger group gatherings of up to 10-50 people as of May 30. That's going to allow Idaho's river outfitters to take larger groups rafting this summer on day trips on the Payette River and also on week-long vacations on the famed Middle Fork of the Salmon River and Salmon River - River of No Return. 

Before I get into the details on that stuff, I saw a news release from the Sawtooth National Forest, announcing that more campgrounds are opening up on Friday, June 5th, including the super popular Redfish Lake campgrounds, Stanley Lake campgrounds, Grand Jean campground and more. Here's a list of what's opening tomorrow. Go to to reserve sites.

FYI - Here's a guidance protocol document about safe camping practices that's been approved by state health authorities. Link to US Forest Service interactive statewide map on recreation sites open/closed.    

Another nugget in the governor's May 30 order is that a ban on non-essential travel has been lifted. That's good news for people who are ready to get out of town after living in a cocoon since mid-March. 

Drew clowns around with his friend Jenny on the Boise River last summer.
Now that it's warming up, people will be flocking to do day trips on the Payette River and Boise River, just as they're flocking to popular spots in Boise like Quinn's pond, the Boise Whitewater Park and Esther Simplot Park. Friday is going to be in the mid-90s, and then the weather looks really wet and crummy this weekend, but it will be warming up again next week. 

The state's easing of restrictions is timed well to accommodate peeps who are ready to hit the water for summer recreation. But just as a reminder, as things open up more, and we see more congestion around the water, it will be incumbent on all of us to use best practices to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

To that end, I'd recommend carrying masks and wearing them in heavily congested areas at river-launch sites and takeouts. Everyone will have their own opinions and tolerances for how much congestion they are comfortable with.

Signature pic passing under the Rainbow Bridge on the Cabarton section, North Fork Payette River
BTW, I checked in with Ada County Parks & Waterways officials, and they are planning on having a float season on the Boise River at Barber Park with equipment rental and shuttles. No opening date has been set, as yet! But watch for an announcement soon. In the meantime, people can launch their own boats at Barber Park at any time. Be aware the Boise River is running at only 600 cfs ... so it's pretty low flow, and rocks, trees and other debris in the river and on shore could present a hazard.  

Idaho Health & Welfare officials have approved the following guidelines for private groups who are going kayaking or rafting on Idaho's rivers:

  • Solo boats are OK - Stand-up paddle boards, inflatable kayaks, single-person rowing a raft, etc.
  • Ideally, go with small groups with immediate family or room-mates that have been living together.
  • If you go with a mixed group of friends, drive separately to the put-in. Go downriver in separate boats, if possible.  
  • Try to put family members in the same paddle boat; or room-mates in the same paddle boat.
  • Shuttles: Do your own shuttle ideally
  • Have a friend do your shuttle vs. hiring a shuttle service, if possible.
  • Wear cloth face coverings while on the water (masks are not recommended in the water).
  • Wipe down and disinfect high-touch surfaces before and after the trip. 
  • Sanitize your vehicle before driving it; sanitize your vehicle after a shuttle driver has used it. 
  • Use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. 
  • Wash your hands before and after your trip. 

On June 3, Gov. Little's office released new COVID-19 guidelines and recommended protocols for outfitted businesses in Idaho, as they have done for a variety of businesses in recent weeks. You can click on the link to read the document in detail. In essence, the guidance recommends that outfitters put a variety of protocols in place at their place of business to ensure 6-foot social distancing, having hand-sanitizer handy for employees and guests, take steps to ensure employees are healthy, etc.

Weeping waterfall at Veil Falls, Middle Fork Impassible Canyon
By easing group sizes to up to 50 people, Idaho's outfitters that typically take large groups of 24 guests on the Middle Fork or Main Salmon rivers will be allowed to do so along with licensed guides who lead the trips.

The outfitting guidance also allows flexibility for outfitters to run paddle boats with mixed groups of people on the river.

I have a gut feeling that some people from out of state may cancel their outfitted river trips in Idaho this summer because of their own personal finances, challenges or anxiety about airline travel, anxiety about being around large groups on the river trip, or other issues.

Hence, it might be a good year for Idaho residents to do a Middle Fork, Main Salmon, Hells Canyon or Selway river trip with an outfitter at a discounted price. Usually those trips cost at least $2,000 per person. Check IOGA's Raft Idaho site to search for outfitters that run your favorite river and see if you can find an open seat. I highly recommend doing these trips ... they are a true trip-of-a-lifetime!

Fish on! Middle Fork native cutthroat trout 
Again, everyone will have their own level of comfort to be around mixed groups and crowds right now by the water. Hopefully everyone will do their part to keep our coronavirus infection rates to a minimum.

Have fun, be safe and stay healthy! 
- SS   

No comments: