Boaters, ranchers negotiate safer fence

Curtain fence spooks cattle but allows boaters to navigate through

A creative solution to a vexing problem between upper Dolores river boaters and area ranchers is moving forward.

After spring runoff when ideal boating flows disappear, cattle fencing is strung up across the river to control herds in the valley.

A rushing river is a natural fence for cattle, but at low flows they don't see it as an obstacle and can wander away.

The problem arises when there are significant monsoon rains in late summer and fall. The river again becomes a torrent, giving boaters a much appreciated second season.

However, ranching operations still have cattle fencing across the river during that time, causing a potential hazard for downstream boaters.

A few boater run-ins with fences have occurred in recent years from Bear Creek to Dolores. Most have been minor, but one last year was more serious after a man on a paddle board was snared by barbed wire that was just under the surface. He escaped.

After the accident, the Dolores River Boating Advocates collaborated with ranch owner Bruce Lightenburger to plan a boater-friendly fence that also deters cattle.

Two PVC curtain fences will be installed at the points where the river enters and leaves Lightenburger's ranch.

"Boaters can maneuver through it, and it spooks the cattle, so it is a safe alternative that works for ranchers and boaters," said Lee-Ann Hill, program coordinator for the DRBA.

The new fence is a high cable is extended across the river with PVC pipes spaced 1-2 feet across that hang down to the water.

"The white pipe is highly visible, and the boaters can easily push through it," said Wade Hanson, a DRBA board member working on the design. "It moves in the breeze and is a visual barrier to the cattle."

Boaters will notice the first fence at the "Big Bend" where the river turns west near a large silver hay barn. The second will be installed as boaters exit the private ranch.

The fences would be removed during the winter off-season.

Hill said the boating group will pay for the materials, expected to cost $1,200. Volunteers are planning to install the fences in June in cooperation with Lightenburger and his ranch foreman.

"The local rafting group reached out and have been a pleasure to work with," Lightenburger said. "This new type of fence solves their problem and keeps my cows in. It's a slam dunk for both of us."

Reports from boaters on the upper Dolores River are that there are no fence hazards, just frigid water, snow squalls big-water rapids.