Commercial river outfitters and private boaters have set aside decades of fighting over Grand Canyon river trips to present a joint recommendation on river use and allocations of private and commercial trips.
They’re hoping to help mend a broken system in which thousands of people are on a waiting list for permits for private trips that stretches for 20 years. The National Park Service, in fact, closed the waiting list in 2003 as part of a process of preparing a new plan to manage the Colorado River.
The deadline for public comment on the Colorado River Management Plan is Feb. 1. Information about the draft plan and a way to make your comments online is available at www.nps.gov/grca/crmp.
The groups’ core recommendations are for a small number of important modifications of the National Park Service river management proposal currently open for public review and comment. The recommendations include an increase in the number of private trip permits, equal annual allocations of commercial and non-commercial use, support for the park’s proposal to continue with motorized use, seasonal adjustments that would result in fewer river trips happening at one time, and improvements to the non-commercial river trip permitting system.
The groups oppose the NPS proposal to adopt and implement an adjustable split system, which would attempt to measure relative demand for non-commercial and commercial river trips and to adjust the allocation of permits on an ongoing basis.
However, a coalition of wilderness organizations including the Sierra Club, River Runners for Wilderness, Bluewater Network, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, among others, has denounced the proposal, arguing that motorized trips should be banned in the Grand Canyon and the total number of visitors limited further in order to preserve the wilderness character of the canyon.
The river outfitters and private boaters group is proposing a dual system for people seeking permits to run private trips: an annual lottery under which all applicants would have an equal chance of winning each year; and also a reservations system that would allow a limited number of applicants to reserve a launch date up to three years in advance, along with the ability to receive a canceled permit on short notice.
What to do about people who are currently on the waiting list remains problematic, and the group did not make a joint recommendation on that issue, said Jason Robertson, of American Whitewater.
“AW’s preference is to take people who have launches coming up in the next three years and continue to offer them their launch opportunities via the waiting list,” he said. “We’d like to encourage people who are more than three years out to drop off the waiting list, and restore their funds.”