Established in 1991, the Upper Arkansas River Voluntary Flow Management Program (VFPM) has helped shape river conditions for the past 32 years. Recreation and tourism in Lake, Chaffee and Fremont Counties has benefitted from water management in this reach by the Bureau of Reclamation in partnership with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. The most remarkable outcome of the program is that the Arkansas River from Leadville to Canon City is both a Gold Medal trout fishery and a Mecca for rafters and kayakers.

The fishing and boating industries once were in conflict on the river, but have worked together to shape an environment that benefits both, while providing scenic and environmental benefits as well.

A 102-mile stretch of the Arkansas River was declared a Gold Medal fishery by Trout Unlimited in 2014. The criteria for becoming a Gold Medal fishery is the ability to sustain 12 14-inch “quality trout” per acre, and produce 60 pounds of standing stock (fish, plant life and invertebrates) per acre. Gold Medal waters also must be accessible to the public.

The Arkansas River Outfitters Association formed in 1980 and has developed the most successful commercial reach of whitewater in the world. Each year, if conditions are prime, about 200,000 people enjoy the thrill of whitewater rafting.

Two factors have made this unusual dichotomy possible:

  • The creation of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area in 1989.
  • The establishment of the Voluntary Flow Management Program in 1991.

With the 32th anniversary of the VFPM in 2023, it’s time to take a look back at how the program started, and how it has evolved over the intervening years.

Click below to read the 2023 edition of the VFMP brochure: