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Boaters on the Colorado River near the new raft-up campground Kathy and John Haas have been developing near De Beque Canyon. Called Kampa Lampa, it's set to open in early August. (Provided by Kathy Haas)

If you’ve abandoned the dream of rafting the Colorado River because it’s too hard to get a permit or multiday boating sounds intimidating, linger a little longer in your REM stage because a new boat-in campground is coming to the Colorado this August. 

By early fall, boaters will be able to put in at the Parachute boat ramp off Interstate 70, paddle 10 miles on the Colorado River and, for $40-$50 per campsite or $10 per person, pull into a primitive campground where visitors can spend the night before taking out in the town of De Beque, another mile or so down river. 

Be warned, though: At “Kampa Lampa,” guests will have to bring their own sleeping gear, food, fire pan, groover (a portable toilet) and other accouterments of rafting. By next summer, groovers, fire pans, picnic tables and designated tent sites will be available — “plus swag with the Kampa Lampa logo and the words ‘ding-dong’ on the back,” said Kathy Haas, adding the name has no relation to the song “Shama Lama Ding Dong” from the movie “Animal House.” 

Campground designation was a year in the making. Haas, a real estate agent, said she found the site while searching Zillow in 2021. When she saw this property she thought, “You’ve gotta be kidding me. When I took my husband to see it, he had this look on his face that made my daughter ask if he was mad. But I said, ‘I don’t care. I’m buying it.’” 

The 7.5-acre parcel sits on the Colorado River, a quarter-mile off I-70. It’s primitive camping “because getting Mesa County’s signoff for a fully operational campground accessible by cars and campers would have been tough due to them potentially running up and down our road, which is flanked mostly by ranchers,” Haas said. 

Kathy and John Haas have spent two years clearing invasive trees from their 7.5-acre parcel on the Colorado River upstream of De Beque Canyon in advance of developing their new Mesa County campground, shown here. (Provided by Kathy Haas)

With the deal sealed, Bobbie Daniel, a Mesa County Commissioner for District 2, said the commissioners are “excited to see the creative ways Kampa Lampa is using their property to spur the exploration of the great outdoors and the local economy.” 

Since buying the property, Haas said her family has been working to clear “literally 2,000” invasive trees, mainly Russian olives and Japanese elms. She received a personal grant through the Natural Resources Conservation Service to do the work, along with removing other invasive flora to be replaced by native species. 

Haas hopes Kampa Lampa will provide an alternative for people who don’t want to, or can’t, run the Ruby-Horsethief section of the Colorado, which starts at Loma, 50 miles west of De Beque. Boating Ruby-Horsethief requires a permit and the Bureau of Land Management says it can be challenging, despite its easily maneuverable Class I and II rapids, because it has “spotty to nonexistent cell service” and a history of “long and cumbersome rescues.” 

The stretch of river Kampa Lampa sits along is a gentle 10-mile float between the Parachute boat ramp and the DeBeque takeout. All told, the trip takes two and a half hours in high water, and up to four when the water is low, Haas said.

Curtis Englehart, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, said De Beque could use more outdoor recreation offerings like Kampa Lampa. He calls De Beque a “hidden gem” that offers easy access to the Colorado River. “Once you go,” he said, “you can’t not go again.” 

But he cautions that visitors to Mesa County’s most beautiful recreation spots should be wary of over-loving them. 

Nathan Perry, an associate professor of economics at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, reported that in 2022, water-based sports accounted for nearly 20% of Mesa County’s core business activity. On the Ruby-Horsethief segment of the Colorado, visitation has steadily increased since the BLM started issuing boating permits there in 2013. And just like on any river with permits regulated by the government’s centralized reservation system, it’s getting harder and harder to get a permit for Ruby-Horsethief, Haas said.

The outdoor adventure website Mountain Buzz also alludes to permit holders abusing the system on Ruby-Horsethief. In a thread labeled “Permit Honesty on Ruby/Horsethief,” a forum member last May called out people who booked “late-week camps” — that is Thursday through Sunday — for the sole purpose of locking in a campsite on Saturday. By booking the three nights of campsites and only showing up on the last night, the member said, they were robbing others of getting a spot to camp on Thursday or Friday night.

For years, Ruby-Horsethief was plagued by people who booked trips but didn’t show up on their launch dates. In response, BLM has instituted a policy this year that penalizes boaters who don’t check in, preventing them from booking a trip until the end of the following year. 

To the boaters reading the Mountain Buzz thread about abusing the system, the member wrote, “I implore you to not join in on that game.” But as interest in rafting continues to grow, one can imagine the crowding and permit issues will persist. 

With Ruby-Horsethief 50 miles west of Kampa Lampa, past Grand Junction, the new campground will never solve the crowding issues on that section of the river. But it does stand to offer an alternative, albeit limited, with its 10 campsites just off the banks of the Colorado.  

Joe Keys, who owns Jet Boat Colorado in De Beque, applauds Haas’ vision. “My company won’t use Kampa Lampa because we don’t do overnight trips,” he said. “But I welcome anything that shows people we’re more than just a gas station off of I-70.”

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Tracy Ross is The Colorado Sun's rural economic development reporter. She also covers the outdoors, books and culture. She came to The Sun after a 20-year career covering the same beats for magazines like Outside, Backpacker, Bicycling and Skiing. Drop her a line with story tips and...