Economics shine along Carson River

Brad Horn/Nevada Appeal Rafters led by local officials and river conservationists pass under the bridge near the Morgan Mill River Access in Carson City on Friday.

Brad Horn/Nevada Appeal Rafters led by local officials and river conservationists pass under the bridge near the Morgan Mill River Access in Carson City on Friday.

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While floating on the Carson River, between picturesque canyon walls and the sweeping branches of willows, the economic possibilities seem as endless as the river's flow.

With a minimal investment and marketing, the Carson River can become a hot spot for whitewater rafting, tourism officials said Friday during a raft trip by local officials and river conservationists.

As word gets out, more will come, one rafting tour operator said. The summer traffic could grow from a hundred to thousands of tourists in a few years, said Mike Miltner, owner of Tahoe Whitewater Tours.

These vacationers drop a lot of money at local restaurants, motels and casinos, said Chris Chrystal, spokeswoman for the Nevada Commission on Tourism. Marketing would be necessary, and it'd come out of the state budget. This marketing is essential even for the locals.

Miltner said the Carson River has definite recreational potential. A tour operation such as his, with 35 employees, can gross about $400,000 in a summer directing tours over regional rivers. Larger operators secure six to seven figures, he said.

He operated limited tours on the Carson River about five years ago. At that time he charged about $65 a person for the half-day trip. He could start again, as long as the government officials are supportive.

A few improvements need to be made, said Lynn Zonge, a hydrologist and project manager for the Carson River aquatic trail plan. Zonge would like to see parking, signs and bathrooms added at the casting-off point off Morgan Mill Road in Carson City. Just these things could cost about $10,000, depending on how nice officials want to make it. Zonge plans to apply in 2008 for state bond money for improvements.

"We're keeping it natural," she said. "It's not like the whitewater park in the Truckee River."

It would also be necessary to placate critics, who could delay any major investment in the whitewater plan.

Some ranchers fear more activity along the river will disrupt their operations, possibly even starting a fight over water rights.

Zonge believes the ranchers are safe.

"Everything we are proposing is upstream from them," she said. "They take water from down below where we are, so there will be no conflict at all."

The 27 mostly inexperienced rafters on Friday's tour received whitewater 101 and a coating of bug repellent before casting into the river from a spot off Morgan Mill Road.

"I've never thought of rafting this river before," said John McKenna, an accountant in Carson City.

The Carson River Canyon whitewater run contains rapids that drive a boat slightly faster than driftwood and just below the need to strap on a helmet. The message from river experts: Don't go on this 10-mile section of river with a cheap raft, an inner tube, or a flat-bottom boat.

The tour paddled past one example of what not to float in the river: A wood boat had crashed and hung up on a boulder in the center of the river.

Floating down a river before it is branded as "the next tourist destination" presented a unique opportunity to officials. They were able to name the rapids. Zonge, the hydrologist, had a name for the first one: Train Wreck, as a homage to the historic V&T.

Another rapids was dubbed the V&T Tumbler because some historic features can be seen best from the river, such as old train bridges and stone retaining walls built for the V&T by Chinese laborers.

Whitewater rafting along the Carson River would be a summer attraction for those who come here to ride the V&T Railway, officials say. The tourist railroad is expected to be completed and running along a portion of the Carson River Canyon in 2010.

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.


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