Boulder Creek could be off-limits for 60 days or longer for flood cleanup, according to city officials, putting a damper on the kayak season and possibly affecting other creekside activities and events.
Beginning Tuesday, Boulder Creek was closed to all swimming, tubing and kayaking while crews clear debris left by the massive September flood. The closure runs from Boulder Falls to Boulder's eastern city limits at 75th Street and Jay Road, and it will be in place until crews finish the cleanup.
Boulder city spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said the 60-day time table is a "very rough estimate."
"The idea is to try to open it as soon as possible," Huntley said. "We know this is a very popular time of the year for the creek and creek-lovers."
Boulder Fire Department spokeswoman Kim Kobel said crews do not have an idea yet of the scale of the cleanup effort because some of the debris is under water.
"It really depends on what we find," Kobel said. "We would all like to see it done sooner rather than later, but it needs to be done correctly. Right now, it is dangerous for anybody who wants to be in the creek."
Boulder City Manager Jane Brautigam has issued an emergency rule that makes using the creek during a closure a municipal violation with a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail. Boulder Fire Rescue will accept public comment on the emergency rule for 30 days before deciding whether to extend it.
If it runs for 60 days, the closure could affect the Boulder Creek Festival, scheduled for May 24-26.
But Boulder spokeswoman Jennifer Bray said the highly popular duck race will be part of this year's creek festivities. The annual festival's duck race is a major fundraiser for the city's EXPAND program, which serves people with disabilities and stands for EXciting Programs, Adventures and New Dimensions.
"In the event that the restrictions remain in place over Memorial Day weekend, the duck race will be held in an alternative manner — a 'plan B,' which is still being worked out," Bray said.
Those hoping to enjoy the creek on a tube or a kayak, however, may be out of luck for a while. Nick Wigston, owner of Whitewater Tube Co. in Boulder, said kayakers especially would miss out on the spring runoff.
"I think if they don't get (Boulder Creek) open before the water runs up, that's tough for kayakers because everyone in Boulder is on the creek when it's running," Wigston said.
Wigston said if the closure lasts 60 days, he thinks the tubing side of his shop won't see a big loss in potential revenue.
"We rent out a few tubes here and there in May, but 90 percent of the rentals are in July and August," Wigston said. " I imagine by the time tubing season really kicks in, the creek will be open again."
Randy Hicks, owner of Rocky Mountain Anglers, also said a 60-day closure would probably not hurt his business, especially because fishing will still be allowed above Boulder Falls and in eastern Boulder County. But Hicks said that could change if the closure begins to push deeper into the summer.
"July 4 is the opportune time to get back out on the creek," Hicks said. "If the closure goes longer than that, then we'll start to see it really impacting the best fishing on the creek."
But Hicks said he understands the city's need for caution as crews work on the creek with all of the debris.
"I certainly understand what's happening and that they don't want to risk anybody getting hurt," Hicks said.
Wigston said he hopes the city will consider opening parts of the creek as crews move along. He said he understands that would be more difficult for the city to enforce, but a long-term closure of the creek could significantly affect Boulder.
"It would definitely be a bummer for the whole town," he said. "Boulder Creek brings so many tourists into town."