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A kayaker competes in 2019’s Paddlefest. Photo by Nic Daughtry Photography

Colorado invites, even demands, exploration. The natural features of this wonderful state can be as arresting as anywhere else on the planet. But, contained within—and often hidden by—the majesty of the landscape are dangers; dangers which demand equal acknowledgement to the environment in which they lie.

As Colorado’s parks experience a peak tourist season and people travel for Fourth of July celebrations, it is crucial to not only appreciate but also respect the state parks.

According to American Whitewater, Colorado has had 12 confirmed deaths and three missing boaters in 2023. Last year saw the highest death toll on rivers in state history, despite having lower water levels than this year, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). One of this year’s deaths unfortunately took place in a section of the Arkansas River that runs through Buena Vista.

The victim, an unidentified 41-year-old, fell out of his inner tube while at Whitewater Park in Buena Vista. According to multiple sources, the man’s inner tube seemed to be dangerous and failed to meet the standards of quality that one should look for in river vessels.

CPW recommends that, in order to stay safe on the water, one should always wear a life jacket, “paddle with a buddy,” scout river rapids before engaging with them and have their vessel properly inspected for safety. Boating sober is perhaps important above all else, since alcohol is the leading cause of death in recreational boating deaths, per CPW.

The incredible dangers posed by alcohol are why, during this year’s Independence Day celebrations, “Boaters heading out onto the water this weekend will see additional Colorado  Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officers enforcing boating under the influence (BUI) laws as part of the national Operation Dry Water campaign,” said an official CPW release.

Safety in the state’s wilderness does not begin and end with the rivers. Wildlife itself can be hazardous, and CPW advises travelers to keep pets leashed at all times, avoid feeding wildlife, and maintain a safe distance to prevent incidents involving wildlife.

Despite a particularly wet spring, the dangers of wildfire in Colorado often looms large in the minds of residents, especially those living near or integrated into forested areas. Fires should only be lit in designated fire pits and must be fully extinguished before leaving. On July 4th, it is important to remember that fireworks are prohibited on public lands, trails, and campsites. Information on regional fire restrictions and bans can be found here.

Additionally, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) reports an annual average of 3,300 wildlife collisions, with many going unreported. To mitigate such accidents, CDOT advises drivers to scan the road when wildlife signs are illuminated, exercise extra caution during dawn and dusk, and be aware that spotting one deer or elk indicates the potential presence of more.

As a final note, environmental stewardship goes hand-in-hand with mindful, safe outdoor recreation. Please, oh please, pick up your trash.