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Town continues work on San Juan River features

Rafters, kayakers, tubers and anglers will most likely be pleased with the town’s decision to move forward with creation of structures in the San Juan River that enhance the river experience through town.

Last week, the latest whitewater river feature in town was completed (largely due to volunteer labor and equipment donated by Davey Pitcher and Bob Hart) in the portion of the river adjacent to Yamaguchi Park, just east of the park’s Terrazzo.

That river structure is a flume with a 10-foot vertical drop, almost twice the drop of the next most inclined feature (the new Davey’s Wave located in the river near the Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center).

While the town is considering three more whitewater river features — one upstream from the newest structure, one just upstream from the Apache Street bridge, with the other just downstream from the U.S. 160 bridge — those features will most likely not be constructed until late this year or early next year.

According to Pagosa Springs Parks Supervisor Jim Miller, whitewater river features require “grouting” (cement work) that necessitates de-watering of portions of the river, a process that is restricted by the Army Corps of Engineers to a time period between Dec. 1 and March 1. In fact, Miller said that the ACoE awarded the town an extension of that time period in order to complete the newest structure.

However, fishing structures do not require grouting and Miller said that several new fish habitats will be added to the river from the 6th Street bend to near the Apache Street bridge.

Funded through the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife’s “Fishing is Fun” grant, the structures provide calmer, deeper waters for fish habitat.

While those structures are installed specifically for fish habitat (and an enhanced angling experience), a fortunate by-product of those structures is that they also provide more whitewater for rafters during high river flows — a time when anglers tend to stay away from the river due to the river’s speed and murkiness.

Miller added that the structures funded through the “Fishing is Fun” grant need to be completed this year, stating that he hopes weather and runoff cooperate to get those structures installed before the start of whitewater season.

Miller provided a potential mid-April timeline for installing the fish habitat structures.

With improvements made to the river over the past three years having led to a substantial boost of traffic on the river by both boaters and anglers, the town has looked at the San Juan River as a resource for boosting tourism and revenues.

With new features added this year, it will be interesting to see if traffic continues to increase with their addition.

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