Holiday cover | | Santa Fe Reporter

Rio Grande water levels are “very good right now” for rafting, Cisco Guevara told SFR. The upcoming Memorial Day weekend would normally be high season for his rafting business, but only six clients are booked for Saturday.

Two people have signed up to raft the Rio Grande on Sunday with Los Rio River Runners, Guevara’s company.

Guevara says the wildfires and ensuing shutdowns have had a huge impact on his business, which is still recovering from the wavering nature of the pandemic.

“COVID has definitely hammered us, but we’ve seen some improvement, we’ve seen light at the end of the tunnel. And now these fires have practically extinguished that light,” says Guevara.

The wildfires, which have dominated national headlines for the past month, have deterred potential visitors from visiting northern New Mexico. While the tourist season is expected to pick up, business owners like Guevara have instead watched visitor numbers slow to a trickle with little hope that things will improve given the uncertain future of the blaze. ‘Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon.

Elana Lombard has compassion for her “upstairs” neighbors who have been driven from their homes by flames and smoke. “But here in Taos, the weather is still nice,” Lombard told SFR, noting that the air quality was good – except for two smoky days – and that the fire had no impact. significant impact on daily life.

The same cannot be said for his company.

Lombard is a fixture in the Taos business community, having run Mudd N Flood for over 20 years. She says that with the fire, the summer tourist season got off to a slow start.

She has noted a drop in customers at her outdoor gear store and says her experience mirrors that of other business owners in Taos. Some, says Lombard, have had to cut staff hours to break even.

Guevara echoes this dilemma.

“One of the big problems because of the pandemic was that I had half the staff that I’m normally used to. And now, because I don’t have enough work for that half, I’m also starting to lose some,” Guevara says.

A concert, featuring Thievery Corporation, originally scheduled for Taos, was moved to Santa Fe following the fire.

Another headache for Guevara is the closure of the national forest, which has cut several of its rafting routes. Last week, the Santa Fe National Forest issued a closure order, prohibiting “public access to the entire 1.6 million acre forest due to active wildfires and the danger of extreme fire”. The Carson and Cibola National Forests have also closed.

Guevara normally guides rafts on a section of the Chama River, which runs through the Santa Fe National Forest. He adds that another section he rambles on the Rio Grande near White Rock is also closed, leaving only upper sections of the Rio open to rafting ventures.

The last time the Santa Fe National Forest was completely closed was in 2018, when authorities announced a forest-wide closure due to a high fire risk.

Chantel Herrick, spokesperson for the Santa Fe National Forest, said concerns about public safety drove the most recent closure, though she is aware of the decision’s impact on the companies.

Herrick says the agency hopes to open the forests on July 18, a date she says the forest service has revised after public comment. But the reopening of forests is not guaranteed, says Herrick. This will depend on the level of fire danger.

To reverse the shutdown, Herrick tells SFR, the forest service isn’t expecting two or three thunderstorms. “No, there needs to be a consistent amount of rainfall before you consider lifting the restrictions,” she continues.

The Forest Service will consider the fire danger and energy release component, which typically measures the ability of fuels to burn, around the forest before making a decision to welcome visitors back to public lands.

Randy Randall, Santa Fe’s tourism manager, said the season “has been a little slower than it normally should be. There was still availability last week from Memorial weekend and normally hotels would be pretty well booked by then.

He adds that businesses downtown and along the Cerrillos Corridor haven’t been affected as much as hotels further out of town, like the Four Seasons Resort in northwest Santa Fe.

Despite the slow start to the summer tourist season, many hotels and events are selling out, Randall says.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency requested to use the city’s convention center as office space while the fires burned, but Randall says the city had to decline because events such as the Santa Fe Literary Festival had already booked the facility.

To better inform tourists who decide to visit Santa Fe, Randall directs people to the wildfire information page of the city’s visitors website. Additionally, it shares updates it receives from the fire department with hotels to ensure the same accurate information is disseminated to potential visitors.

Guevara hopes to see an increased number of bookings in the coming weeks.

“The water level is really good right now and the Taos Box is open,” says Guevara, referring to a well-known 16-mile stretch of whitewater on the Rio Grande. “So if people are looking for a little more fun, now is the time to go.”

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