A Conversation From the Barricades
River Runners hunker down for extended Grand Canyon standoff during shutdown
C&K editor Jeff Moag spoke Wednesday afternoon with Scott Lee, one of more than two-dozen river runners camped near the barricaded road to the Grand Canyon put-in. Lee and his 16-person party had a valid permit to launch Wednesday morning, but National Park Service rangers barred access to the river, citing the government shutdown.
How are you?
I’ve been better. (laughs)
Our permit was for today, so we’re not that far gone yet. We’re going to hunker down for a few days and see what happens. We’ve paid the bill, our food is packed, the boats are ready to go.
The biggest unknown, even should the government open up tomorrow, is whether they’ll let us go down. They’re not telling us whether they will or not. The other option is maybe they’ll be a cancellation we’ll be able to get on.
There could be a lot of cancellations. People with launches in the next few days are making some hard choices right now.
Yeah. We’re not giving up yet.
During the 1995 shutdown, the State of Arizona stepped in and paid to keep the park open. I understand there’s an effort underway to ask Arizona Governor Janice Brewer to intervene.
There’s absolutely no progress. We’ve talked to all the congressmen, all the senators. We’ve tried the governor’s office. I’ve had the head U.S. correspondent for the National Park Service on the phone today, and his answer was “our hands are tied.”
Tell us about your group.
We’re kind of an extended family. We’ve got some kids—two 8th-graders, a senior in high school, a couple of college students. My son is with me. We’ve got three uncles who are here with either their nieces or their nephews.
I’ve been putting in for permits for a number of years. My trip leader has put in for this every January since 1995. Yeah, a long time. He’s never been down the Grand Canyon. He’s never had the opportunity. And you’ve run the Grand, so you understand the money right?
About 30 grand for a 16-person trip, yeah. But as a river-runner I don’t think about that. I think about those uncles and nephews and nieces who are never going to share that once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Other media are reporting that the NPS rangers have volunteered to man the barricades. True?
They will not tell us whether they’re being paid or not. The first time we asked them, they said they’re not getting paid. And now they are just completely skirting the question. But one thing I can tell you is it’s the same four people that have been working pretty much around the clock. I’ve tried to get their supervisors’ phone numbers, and I’ve tried to contact the park superintendent but I’ve been unsuccessful there.
How has your interaction been with the rangers?
It’s definitely been civil. There were a couple of tense moments yesterday when this thing first started, but we’ve been working really hard to patch that up. So now we’re working together and understand that we’re all in the same situation, because hopefully when the opportunity comes they’re going to be lenient and let us through, right?
Have you thought about either taking some back roads in to the river, or a civil disobedience action where you’d walk across the barricade and force them to arrest you?
We’ve certainly thought about getting in that way, but we rented our gear. All of our boats and gear is on the outfitter’s two vehicles, and they have a future out here with the Park Service. They’re not going to go renegade.
So we’ve been talking about going from Diamond down (the non-permitted section of the Colorado below the Grand Canyon). We’ve been talking about doing the San Juan. We’ve been talking about going to Westwater. I don’t know. Our options aren’t many, ‘cause there’s 16 of us, in two vehicles. And they aren’t our vehicles.