Promoting Safety Within the Arkansas Headwaters

Written by Kristian Gustavson, KEEN Ambassador and Founder of Below the Surface, a non-profit organization dedicated to the exploration of, and education about the issues surrounding water.

Below the Surface (BTS) is a non-profit research and exploration group whose core mission is to identify pressing environmental issues and raise awareness of solutions pertaining to the conservation of natural waterways and the prevention of pollution and habitat degradation. BTS seeks to enhance scientific understanding, conservation, and public awareness of global river resources and to initiate a National Waterway Assessment Program and Monitoring Network. One critical part of this Network, the Riverview Project, uses state of the art imaging and data processing technology to produce 360° panoramic images along major waterways coupled with detailed scientific sampling.

We recently completed an expedition to map two important sections of the Arkansas River within the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) near Salida, CO—the most commercially rafted river system in the United States. Below the Surface was approached by employees of Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), who are interested in working with us on this project. They feel that the imaging that we can provide will enhance tourism and education, as well as promote river safety. This preliminary expedition utilized a 360° panoramic GoPro camera array developed by 360 Heros to image two key areas within the AHRA: Brown’s Canyon, one of the most popular whitewater rafting sections, and a 10 mile stretch south of Salida Colorado, which was recently designated as a “Gold Medal Fishing Area.” Gold Medal Waters are considered the highest quality cold-water habitats accessible to the public and offer the greatest potential for trophy trout fishing.

Tourism and river recreation activities on Colorado’s Rivers have been negatively impacted this year due to an unusually high number of injuries and fatalities. Therefore, the CPW requested assistance from Below the Surface to help with public education and safety for the over 200,000 visitors using the Arkansas River Headwaters Area annually, and to promote the economic impact of the Arkansas River experience.

Dr. Matthew Forrest, Chief Scientist for BTS, and I were joined by Jeff Rangitsch, a Naturalist and River Guide for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. We are currently seeking funding to return to the Arkansas River next year to image the entire Headwaters Recreation Area, which covers approximately 150 miles. Along with the 360° panoramic images and videos, Below the Surface will collect essential data regarding water quality and complete benthic habitat mapping for native trout and other species using high-resolution side-scan sonar imagery to identify and interpret critical habitat features.

Below the Surface is proud to work with our Partners and Sponsors including USGS, EPA, KEEN, Clif Bar, 360 Heros, Ram Mounts, NRS, Patagonia, Goal Zero, Matuse Wetsuits, Brunton, and we also sincerely thank the employees of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area for their assistance and support.