Two local river groups have teamed up with the BLM to improve campsites on the Lower Dolores River.
Despite no whitewater release below McPhee dam, there are boatable flows on the Lower Dolores below the San Miguel river confluence, its main tributary.
For 33 miles - from the confluence to Gateway - the Lower Dolores flows through BLM lands, featuring red-rock canyons, plenty of flat water and occasional intermediate rapids.
But lack of use has left many campsites overgrown and hard to spot, said Josh Munson, a member of the Dolores River Boating Advocates (DRBA).
"People don't know about it, thinking if there is no whitewater release from the dam then there is no boating," he said. "But for four to six weeks every year, the San Miguel flows make the Dolores runnable for a nice three-day trip."
During a raft tour of the stretch last week, DRBA partnered with BLM river rangers and the Tamarisk Coalition to catalogue campsites and improve access.
There are 10 marked campsites being maintained by the BLM. Six other sites are on a popular river map, but were abandoned because of thick vegetation.
"We did some clearing of brush, and the BLM installed campsite signs so they are visible from the river," said Daniel Oppenheimer, restoration organizer for the Tamarisk Coalition.
He said the coalition is moving away from a strategy of aggressive tamarisk control to one of long-term monitoring and maintenance of local rivers.
"The stretch opened my eyes as far as the Lower Dolores goes," Oppenheimer said. "We're enhancing recreation opportunities along with DRBA, who are very passionate about the river. They're willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty, plus they have the boats to get there."
The BLM inventory will be used in a public process to possibly designate more campsites in the area.
"The practical side is to anticipate river traffic and have adequate campsites that are spaced out with clean entrances," said Wade Hanson, a DRBA member who participated in the tour.
Munson said the plan is to publish a map of the campsites on the DRBA website. Raising awareness of a little known stretch of the Dolores is part of the group's mission.
"We want to bring attention to it and get more people to appreciation whitewater opportunity," Munson said. "When people use the river, they understand it's a value worth protecting, and gives us an audience in our effort to optimize flows."
No permit is required on the Lower Dolores River. As of Wednesday, the Dolores flows at Gateway were 1,560 cubic-feet per second.