Durango’s Animas River Days is back on, according to event organizers.
Every year since 1983, the river-running festival has been held in Santa Rita Park at the Durango Whitewater Park. It features several events throughout the first weekend of June and culminates in the infamous river parade.
But for the first time in the event’s history, Animas River Days was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, event organizers say Animas River Days will be held once again this year from June 3 to June 6, but there could still be some limits because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ashleigh Tucker, executive director of Animas River Days, said La Plata County is currently under the Level Yellow public health order, which limits the number of viewers of an outdoor event to 175.
That number, however, does not include people participating, vendors or volunteering in the event, only spectators.
If La Plata County moves to the next least restrictive health order, Level Blue, by the time of the event, Tucker said there would be no restrictions on the number of people who can watch the festival.
“It will come down to what level we’re in to determine our final decisions, which will be close to event time,” Tucker said. “There’s still so much unknown.”
Tucker said event organizers are prepared to hold the event, regardless of what level La Plata County is in.
“We’re ready for whatever,” she said. “Things keep changing by the day so it’s kind of hard to know what will happen. It’ll be pretty last-minute decisions.”
Animas River Days will feature the U.S. Freestyle Championships for kayaking, a slalom race for kayakers, a boatercross event, a raft race and a host of stand-up paddleboard events, among others.
The raft parade, in which a barrage of river-runners, some who have imbibed, sometimes heavily, head down the Animas, is expected to take place Saturday afternoon.
Though the parade is technically not part of the festival, Tucker said, it’s generally accepted every year that it is going to happen. Tucker said volunteers will likely be placed at river put-ins to help keep things organized.
“We’ll try to make sure everyone is being safe and respectful,” she said.
Tucker said it’s important this year that boaters in the parade do not stop at Santa Rita Park to watch, if indeed there are capacity restrictions because of public health orders.
All in all, Tucker said event organizers are just happy Animas River Days is back.
“We’re excited to try and bring the community back together,” she said. “And help do that in a safe way.”
Animas River Days is held the first weekend of June to try to time it with peak flows from spring runoff. The Animas historically peaks around 4,700 cubic feet per second in late May or early June.
According to a Colorado Basin River Forecast Center flow forecast report released April 6, the center predicted the Animas to peak with a mean daily flow of just 2,100 cfs.
Brenda Alcorn, a senior hydrologist for the center, said the Animas’ instantaneous peak flow should be a little bit higher than the mean daily peak. She said it is too far out to predict when the peak will arrive.
“Until we’re within a week of the peak actually occurring, we’re not going to know,” she said. “It’s so dependent on the weather.”
Prolonged drought in the region is expected to affect water flows in the Animas this year. Snowpack in the high country throughout the winter never reached historic averages, lingering at its peak at about 85% of normal.
As of Monday, snowpack was at just 64% of normal for the Animas, Dolores, San Miguel and San Juan river basins.
Peter Goble, a research associate with the Colorado Climate Center, said in a previous interview the dry, thirsty forest floor is expected to absorb a significant amount of the snowpack that’s on the ground.
As a result, researchers expect the Animas River will have just 50% to 70% of its normal flows for the year.
Spring snow is in the forecast, however. The National Weather Service in Grand Junction reports a chance of snow throughout the high country around Silverton for the entire week this week.
Goble added that it’s not unprecedented for a late-season snowstorm to reverse fortunes of snowpack and water availably, pointing to May 2015, when a winter storm dumped snow across the San Juan Mountains, after a relatively dry winter.