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Seaplanes entertain, educate at Kenney Reservoir Splash-in


RANGELY | It was the usual crisp morning start that turned into a beautiful, bright day on Saturday, July 17 in Rangely, Colorado. It was perfect for the Seaplane Splash-in at the Kenney Reservoir hosted by the Colorado Seaplane Initiative. Major leaders in aviation gathered to discuss issues concerning how aviation impacts the local environment and economy while sharing in laughs, knowledge and entertainment with the locals.

Colorado Seaplane Initiative Director Ray Hawkins helped plan the main events. Hawkins’ biggest concerns about the event after last year’s hiatus due to COVID-19 were ensuring there would be enough participation and all regulations could be met to host the event this year.  Despite his concerns, the event came to fruition and soared high in the hearts of the aviators and spectators. Hawkins’ passion, advocacy, and desire to share it with the local residents are apparent in his efforts.  

The aviators worked together to create a floating bingo card while educating spectators about the reservoir. Spectators enjoyed learning that the Taylor Dam, created in 1983, was funded entirely by the taxpayers of Rio Blanco County to protect residents against flooding. The reservoir is also a registered FAA airport and air base while providing recreational activities for local residents. Building the bingo card proved to be quite an engineering feat and a great cardio workout. Hawkins said while physics played an integral part, a lot was trial and error to get the bingo card to come together.  Everyone enjoyed the process and seeing the planes in action.  

Hawkins and Alden VandenBrink, the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District Manager, described that the logistics for acquiring land for accessibility, clearing and use are dependent on ownership, regulations and environmental concerns. Public waterways have three levels of ownership — federal, state, and local. Permission from all entities is required before any seaplane can receive approval. Focusing on Kenney Reservoir, VandenBrink said this particular location is privately owned by the conservancy and taxpayers, which contributes to the charm of Rangely. When a seaplane came in for a landing, VandenBrink offered a hearty welcome,  “Come on in!”   

While this event did allow aviators and spectators to enjoy the Colorado waters, this is not usually the case. There are aquatic regulations to protect local wildlife against invasive species that can spoil local habitats. Mussels, such as Quagga and Zebra, which are indigenous to Russia, have been known to be carried over by cargo ships and infiltrate local waterways.  In 1980, they were first detected in the Great Lakes and took over much of the local marine life, causing economic consequences to local fishers and disrupting the food supply of the wildlife in the Great Lakes. Hawkins discussed how Colorado’s procedures, regulations, and guidelines have helped protect Colorado’s waters from a similar fate.  

Colorado ensures that seaplanes and boats must be inspected thoroughly while undergoing a decontamination involving blasting water outside the craft with 140-degree spray after every flight. These high standards, which include yearly inspections, are required by law. Another benefit is the physics of how planes land seem to also prevent mussels, especially in their younger form, from being able to attach to the hull of seaplanes. While planes are easier to have preventative measures naturally, boats are often infested with the invasive mussels according to the Aquatic Nuisance Species Program. To help track boats and their cargo, Colorado requires the purchase of an ANS stamp when registering for a boat annually. 

Hawkins and other aviators at the event shared their passion to ensure that seaplanes do not contribute to harming the local environment.  They work to keep planes clear of mussels and share their knowledge at events like the Seaplane Splash-in.  All four planes that attended the event were inspected and followed all regulations and protocols to protect Kenney Reservoir. 

The Colorado Seaplane Initiative hosts the Splash-In event every year at Kenney Reservoir and Lake Meredith on the other side of the state. 

Their website,, boasts their passion for education and advocacy.  The organization works closely with Colorado Northwestern Community College’s flight school to encourage and support aspiring pilots.  Training offered through the college include the following: individual pilot training, inspector qualification training, as well as survival and physiological training. 

In traditional Rangely style, this event was way outside of ordinary. Ray Hawkins has his sights set on the next Splash-In event at Kenney Reservoir in September. The values of the community experience of Rangely and the seaplane community were highlighted throughout the event. Seaplanes have potential for boosting Rangely’s position as a recreational and educational center of aviation for young and old.  

VandenBrink said it best, “We’re all amateurs until the end.”  Until we ‘sea’ you in the skies again!  

By ROXIE FROMANG | Special to the Herald Times