Moments after a new boater-friendly fence was installed where the Dolores River flows through a private ranch, four tubers approached from upstream.
"They looked surprised, and paddled for shore," said Wade Hanson, of the Dolores River Boating Advocates. "It made us realize there needs to be an educational component to this project."
Urged to be the first through the curtain of hanging PVC pipe, the tubers obliged, easily pushed aside the tubes, and floated merrily away.
The project is part of a collaboration between cattle rancher Bruce Lightenburger and local boaters to provide safe access for river runners.
A rushing river is a natural barrier for cattle. But during low flows in late summer and fall, Lightenburger typically spanned fencing across the river to keep cattle from roaming out onto the highway.
A vexing problem emerges during heavy monsoonal rains in August and September when Dolores flows reach 300 to 400 cubic feet per second and becomes boatable again. Rafters, kayakers, paddle boarders and tubers would suddenly encounter a dangerous cattle fence, which caused a few accidents.
"The local rafting group reached out, and we found a solution they paid for," Lightenburger said. "They've been a pleasure to work with."
Last week, Lightenburger, along with DRBA volunteers, took two days to install a hanging curtain of 10-foot-long PVC pipes where the river leaves the property."It's functional and went in fairly smoothly," Hanson said. "It was a team effort. Bruce helped out with his backhoe to dig the 6-foot holes for the structure."
The units are designed to be raised and lowered, and can be taken down as needed. The two fences cost $2,000.
DRBA said generous volunteer effort was key along with donations from local companies, inlcuding from Mild to Wild Rafting, Heather Narwid of Side Show, Colorado River Outfitters Association, and Durango Home Depot.
"There were not a lot of plans for this type of structure, so we did some freelance design work and had a well-skilled volunteer crew," Hanson said.
In September, a similar fence will be installed on the upper end of the property. If there's a late-season run on the upper Dolores before that, it has been negotiated for the boaters to remove the upper wire cattle fence and replace it as necessary.
"The next step is evaluating the fence effectiveness and informing boaters of what is coming on this section, perhaps a sign that reads 'boater friendly fence ahead,'" Hanson said.
Boaters are reminded that the Dolores River from the Westfork put-in to Dolores is mostly private property, with several working cattle ranches. Floating the section is a privilege, and boaters should be on the lookout for cattle fencing, be courteous, and avoid trespassing.
"I look forward to the blissful whisper of PVC across my forehead," said boater Matt Robinson on Facebook.