Idaho outfitters sell Idaho's overflowing rivers when south faces drought shortage

Idaho whitewater outfitters know what it like to have their seasons cut short from drought and lack snow. They also know how thick smoke and actual firestorms can wreck havoc with a summer season.

So when their neighbors in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico are suffering through a drought winter, and facing shorter river rafting seasons, they know when to hunt for late season customers. A few big fires that capture national attention doesn’t hurt.

"If someone hears that there's a drought in Colorado and parts of the Southwest, we just want them to know that Idaho's conditions are totally opposite," said Peter Grubb, owner of ROW Adventures. "Idaho's going to be a popular spot because we'll see a lot of private boaters coming up here from Colorado and Utah. The word will get out quickly that Idaho's the place to go rafting and paddling this summer.”

The Idaho Division of Tourism put out a press release this week to highlight that the state's nationally famous rivers like the Salmon, Hells Canyon, Middle Fork Salmon and Selway are all hitting "ideal" levels with plenty of flows for a long summer season. It reminds everyone that Idaho is "the whitewater state" because it has more whitewater miles of rivers than any other state in the lower 48, about 3,250 miles.

In addition to Grubb pointing to his day trips on the Moyie River up north and jet boat scenic tours on the Snake and Salmon rivers, Marty Smith, owner of Three Rivers Rafting, talks up rafting on the Salmon, Selway and Lochsa rivers. "This is the kind of year we wait for,” he said in the release. “The water flows are ideal, and we'll have fun levels throughout the summer season.”

And Greg McFadden of Canyons, a Middle Fork and main Salmon outfitter that specializes in whitewater kayaking trips, said he understands the predicament in Colorado because he's a ski guide there in the winter.

"In Idaho, we're lucky, we're on target for a great, solid season," he said. "Last year, the water was too high in June for some of our beginning kayakers, but this year, we won't have to worry about that. We're going to have friendly flows all summer long.”

Their ace-in-the hole is Ron Abramovich, Idaho snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Boise. He’s the expert

"Idaho is the place to go rafting this year since the rest of the West is struggling with low flows,” Abramovich said. “The mountains still have plenty of snow to sustain the river flows throughout the summer months."

Idaho's rivers that are fed by reservoirs, such as the Hells Canyon section of the Snake River and the Payette River, will have plenty of flows this summer because reservoirs are brim-full, Abramovich said. That will enhance rafting and jet boat trips in Hells Canyon, and world-class kayaking on the North and South Forks of the Payette River.

You have to give the tourism folks credit for being nimble and jumping on the woes of others to take advantage of Idaho bounty of whitewater this season. More visitors means more sales taxes which means more money for everything from schools to Medicaid services.

Earlier this month the Western Governors released a report that showed recreation created $646 billion in national sales and services in 2011, nearly double the size of pharmaceuticals and motor vehicles/parts. Recreation is as big as the financial services and insurance industry and outpatient health care, said the report commissioned by the governors and both motorized and non-motorized recreation groups

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