DURANGO — A cool spring could lead to a long and consistent rafting season in southwest Colorado.
Despite underwhelming snowfall last winter, the Animas River is flowing nicely, said Alex Mickel, president of Mild to Wild Rafting in Durango.
"We were fortunate to have a cool spring," Mickel said. "Although we didn't have a lot of snow, it kept what we had up there. We expect to have consistent flows throughout the summer."
Mickel said the Animas won't likely have extremely high flows, but enough to keep families coming.
"We should have sufficient flow to offer most of our options throughout the summer," Mickel said. "It's really going to be a good season for family rafting. While we'll have some nice water, we're not going to have the really intimidating water."
On May 23, the Animas River was flowing at 2,470 cubic feet per second in Durango, close to average for the date, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Mickel said Mild to Wild looks forward to a strong season.
"Reservations look good for this summer," he said.
The Denver Post recently named the Animas River to a top-10 list of Colorado rafting trips to try. The newspaper cited the ability to raft relatively docile Class III rapids on the lower Animas, or take on Class IV and V rapids on the upper Animas north of Durango.
Oddly, some customers were scared away last summer by news of the Colorado Springs wildfire that scorched entire neighborhoods, Mickel said.
Some potential visitors were worried it could affect their Durango vacations, apparently not aware that more than 300 miles separates the towns. "People don't quite understand the immense geography that's involved in Colorado," Mickel said. "We talked to a lot of people who were concerned about it."
With good weather and a strengthening economy, all signs point to a strong tourist season in Durango.
The city of Durango has reported 29 consecutive months of year-over-year growth in sales tax collections, a reliable barometer of retail activity in the community. Sales tax revenue grew 5.7 percent in 2012, and is up 5.2 percent in 2013 through April.
Lodgers tax also showed strong growth, up 6.3 percent in 2012. This year through April, it was up 9.3 percent. Lodgers tax is paid through hotel and motel stays.
More and more visitors are booking shortly before they arrive, said Peter Marshall, manager of the DoubleTree Hotel. That makes forecasting for the summer difficult, he said.
However, signs point toward a strong summer.
"We're optimistic," he said.
Summer tourism in Durango relies largely on Mesa Verde National Park and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
Mesa Verde received 572,329 visitors in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to the National Park Service. That was a 1 percent increase from the previous year.
The railroad attracts about 135,000 visitors a year.
In June, the railroad will bring back for the second year Jim HensonÕs Dinosaur Train, a 2 1/2 hour trip geared toward children ages 2 to 5.
Chuck Slothower can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4638. Follow him on Twitter @DTChuck.