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Coronavirus Pandemic Could Cripple Colorado's Whitewater Rafting Season

SALIDA, Colo. (CBS4) - The coronavirus crisis already crippled the busy ski season in Colorado and now it could spell disaster for the upcoming whitewater rafting season as well.

Whitewater rafting typically floods mountain communities with tourist dollars, but COVID-19 could leave rivers empty this summer, as many outfitters have put the brakes on their operations.

On Monday, the world famous FIBArk Whitewater Festival held every June in Salida was canceled over COVID-19 concerns, a sign that major disruptions to the summer recreation industry are possible.

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Bill Dvorak owns Dvorak Expeditions in Nathrop.

Since 1969, river outfitter Dvorak in Nathrop has weathered high water and drought, wildfires and recessions, but nothing like what they are facing now.

"Nothing like this, not knowing what you might be able to do, it's difficult," Dvorak told CBS4 on Monday.

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(credit: CBS)

"Most of us have early season trips, all of those canceled," he explained. "May is coming up and guide training is on hold."

The whitewater industry brings in millions of dollars every year to the state -- from the Arkansas River to the Upper Colorado River, from Durango to Clear Creek County.

But it's not even clear if outfitting companies will be able to salvage any of their season this year, already cancelling and refunding early reservations.

"Optimistically speaking, hopefully by Memorial Day, not so sure," Dvorak said.

The uncertainty could leave some owners of raft companies permanently closed. A lot of that will depend on if these companies receive federal stimulus money.

"We'll wait and see," he said.

Some companies are trying to figure out if they could still operate on a limited basis by allowing smaller family groups in single boats to take trips, helping with social distancing. All of that is also unclear under the current stay-at-home orders.

About The Colorado Stay-At-Home Order

Colorado's stay-at-home order amid the coronavirus outbreak went into effect on the morning of March 26 and it is currently set to expire on April 26.

Coloradans are urged to stay in their own community and not travel for recreation or to get outside. Only essential businesses have been given the green light to keep in-person operations going, and those that remain open are required to keep in line with social distancing guidelines.

RELATED: Latest Updates On The Coronavirus Outbreak In Colorado

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