Giant Dolores River release set

One of the Southwest’s great rivers is roaring back to life in April. After more than two decades of ups and downs, spring run-off is returning to the Lower Dolores beginning on April 1. A huge spill is forecast for the normally dry river, which contains several classic, multi-day runs, none of which require permits. Levels are expected to crest 3,000 cubic feet per second, and boatable flows should continue through the middle of June.

Flows on the Lower Dolores have been stunted for more than 20 years, since the final stone was placed on McPhee dam in 1985. While agriculture has been greatly enhanced by the reservoir, the character of the Dolores River has been greatly impacted. The impact has been especially noticeable since 2000, with only one significant release in 2005. On most years, spring run-off above the reservoir has been as high as 3,000 cfs yet trickling at a mere 40 cfs below the dam. Boaters are not the only ones who have suffered from this situation. Absence of water has negatively impacted wildlife and damaged what was once a world-class fishery.

However, the Lower Dolores will have some of its old flavor beginning April 1, thanks largely to a generous regional snowpack. “There will be a big boating season this year,” said Vern Harrell, of the Bureau of Reclamation. “We’re taking advantage of the wet conditions, and there will be a substantial spill.”

By substantial spill, Harrell means that there will be up to 75 days of boatable water on the Lower Dolores. He said that the Dolores should be runnable as soon as April 1, and 800 cfs is scheduled to spill from McPhee throughout most of the coming month. In May, Harrell expects flows to bump up to 1,000 cfs and crest at a high point of 3,000 cfs around May 19, well before the crowds of Memorial Day weekend. Harrell said that the Bureau of Reclamation hopes that this year’s long stretch of boatable flows should make for fewer cars at the put-ins and take-outs as well as less crowded campsites on the river.

“We’re hoping it will spread some of the crowding out,” he said. “But then again, it’s been a while since we’ve had a good river season down there.”

The Bureau of Reclamation is hosting a meeting this week to discuss the coming releases. The public is encouraged to attend the session, which is scheduled for Wed., March 26 at 7 p.m. in the Dolores Public Lands Office, located off Highway 184.

“We’re doing our best to inform the public what’s going on,” Harrell said. “I really look forward to a lot of boaters to be there, because it should be a really good year for them.”

Up-to-date information on releases and flows is available at:


Iron Horse Classic close to sold-out

Early birds will get the road between Durango and Silverton this year. This week, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic reported that it was close to selling out, with the citizens tour completely full and only a handful of slots available in a few race categories.

The annual road race, which includes a 47-mile road race and 52-mile tour, is capped at 2,500 total cyclists on the road. The cap was created last year for safety reasons and because of the logistical capacity of law enforcement, volunteers and staffing of the event. Iron Horse numbers hit 2,300 in 2006, and early registration has already surpassed that. In addition, the tour – the annual race against the train – was officially filled last Thursday. There is no waiting list and registrations are nontransferable.

Gaige Sippy, event director, commented that the numbers indicate one thing – the Iron Horse is now officially on the national and international map. His office has received registrations from 39 states, including Alaska and Hawaii, and riders from Great Britain and Europe will be lining up at this year’s starting line.

“I think we’re seeing a trend nationwide where long-term events are getting more popular,” Sippy said. “I also think the Iron Horse has become a destination event. When I talk to racers they say they either heard about the event from other people who’ve done the race before or they’ve heard about Durango.”

Only a few racing slots are still available for the May 24 Iron Horse road race. As of press time, there were still vacancies in the following categories: Pro Men and Women; Junior Men and Women; Masters Men – 30-34, 60-69 & 70+; and Senior Women 50-59. There was also availability in the weekend’s two other races – the May 25 downtown criterium, and the new East Animas Time Trial, scheduled for May 26.

“We still have availability in the time trial and criterium,” Sippy said. “Plus, we’re getting more racers signed up for all three events than in any recent year. Getting people to stay in town for all three days has always been one of our goals.”

Last year’s Iron Horse reached the 2,500 rider cap. However, getting close to a sell-out in March is unprecedented.  “I think that whenever you put a limit on something, it will become that much more coveted,” Sippy said. “I guess it only took us 37 years to get here.”

The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic has an estimated economic impact to the community of $1.1 million annually, and this year the breast care center at Mercy Regional Medical Center will be the event’s primary beneficiary.

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Local businesses boost snow study ­

Three local businesses recently donated a portion of their profits to furthering snow science and understanding of global warming. Venture Snowboards in Silverton and Pine Needle Mountaineering and Verde PR in Durango, each a member of the group “1 % for the Planet,” recently donated their respective one percent of sales to the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies. The center is a Silverton-based research organization with national significance to snow science research.

As part of their membership with 1% for the Planet, each business is required to donate one percent of sales to approved environmental organizations of their choice. These three businesses each elected to direct all or a portion of their contributions to the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies. The center is dedicated to a better understanding of mountain snow systems and the human-environment interaction.

“Given the woeful lack of support from government funders for monitoring programs in mountain settings, despite the widely recognized hyper-sensitivity of mountain systems to climate change, we are thrilled to include 1% for the Planet participants among the funders of our Mountain System Monitoring Program in Senator Beck Basin,” says Chris Landry, executive director of CSAS. “We applaud their generosity and leadership in underwriting this important science mission.”

The donations will help CSAS improve infrastructure for mountain systems monitoring and help support climate change researchers in their efforts to study how mountains of the Western U.S. are responding to changes in regional and global climate.

One of those researchers is Dr. Heidi Steltzer from the Natural Resource Ecology Lab in Fort Collins. She noted the importance of this area for developing critical snow resource and regional climate research. “The monitoring program in Senator Beck Basin is essential for us to understand the regional climate of the San Juan Mountains, how it is changing, and how it differs from other regions of Colorado and the Western U.S.,” Steltzer said.

More information on the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies and the Senator Beck Basin project can be found at:

– Will Sands