TWIN FALLS — As Shoshone Falls roared with the most water in years, the city parks department suddenly needed more toilet paper, portable toilets, trash cleanup and police presence in Shoshone Falls Park.
Vehicle fee collections, which typically begin in April, got pushed up by two weeks to capture early revenue. Throughout April, vehicle counts jumped more than 18,000 from what Shoshone Falls and Dierkes Lake had recorded a year before.
“It was nuts, and there were a lot of people,” Parks and Recreation Director Wendy Davis said. “March was insane. April was insane.”
That influx confirmed what local tourism leaders already knew: Southern Idaho’s outdoor recreation is the area’s biggest draw.
TWIN FALLS — Tourism is booming in south-central Idaho and still has room to grow.
Lodging tax collections in Cassia, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka and Twin Falls counties rose double digits again. Following a 17.2 percent increase in the 2016 fiscal year, the area reported a 10.8 percent increase in 2017, with collections of $828,733.
Many of those visitors showed up at Shoshone Falls and Dierkes Lake.
By June, the parks had welcomed more than 85,000 cars and 170 buses since mid-March, and the department sold 822 season passes. Combined, these brought in revenue of $281,624. Expenses were higher too, of course.
High-water years typically draw in more tourists to these areas, Davis said. In 2011, with high flows, the department saw a record $303,100 in revenues from April to October.
“We’re gonna break that record this year, I’m positive,” Davis said.
National media coverage of the falls likely contributed to the tourist boom, and visitor counts were still up in June despite Shoshone Falls having returned to normal scenic levels. But Davis also attributes the increase to Southern Idaho Tourism’s marketing.
The falls’ boost to tourism lasted longer than the high water did, said Melissa Barry, director of Southern Idaho Tourism. The high water also brought in whitewater kayakers and other recreationists.
When Boise’s high river inhibited some spring and summer recreation, the Magic Valley capitalized on Treasure Valley water enthusiasts.
“We’re running a campaign right now that our river is not too high, and you can float it,” Barry said in early summer.
TWIN FALLS — Pausing over a freshly made bed, Ana Vasquez blushed as she remembered an embarrassing moment of her job.
The high water allowed Idaho Guide Service to open up guided whitewater trips on the Murtaugh stretch of the Snake River for the first time since 2001, lead boatman and manager Daniel Gardner said. This attracted thrill-seekers from all over the U.S.
The company ran commercial trips from April through June. But when the Bureau of Reclamation dropped water levels unexpectedly, causing 80 customers’ trips to be canceled, Idaho Guide Service decided not to offer them again this season.
“The high water has made the rafting companies in this area need to be adaptable,” Gardner said.
More water wasn’t a boon to all — the Idaho Regatta boat race scheduled for June in Burley was canceled right before Memorial Day weekend. Law enforcement officials were concerned about high-water wakes flooding nearby homes.
The Idaho Regatta typically brings 50 to 70 boats to Burley, committee chairman Louis Schindler said. Overall attendance is estimated at around 2,500 people.
“For Burley, it’s one of the largest marine events that takes place this summer,” he said.
Most who attend stay three or four nights and also attend a fish fry in Rupert. The committee estimates it lost $15,000 to $20,000 in revenue — money that it would have spent on next year’s race.