Standoff at Lee’s Ferry
As the shutdown continues, permit holders face off against Park rangers
This story is an update to yesterday’s article on how the government shutdown has stymied Grand Canyon boaters.
By Eugene Buchanan
With the government shut down closing access to national parks, things are getting ugly for river runners holding permits to launch their Grand Canyon trips today and later this week.
After helping the last permit holders put on before the closure took effect at noon yesterday, Oct. 1, Lee’s Ferry Law Enforcement Rangers went to the junction of Hwy 89A and the Lee’s Ferry Road to set up a road block. When two groups of river runners with permits arrived to rig for an Oct. 3 launch, “things got ugly and hot words were exchanged,” says Tom Martin of river advocacy group River Runners for Wilderness. As of this afternoon, five groups of permit holders—as many as 80 would-be river runners—are waiting to put in but being held off by authorities.
The standoff began when two river groups arriving late Tuesday afternoon met NPS rangers under orders not to let anyone proceed down the river access road. By Wednesday, three more groups had appeared, as had concrete barricades called in by authorities.
“Now they’re spending even more money to keep people out,” says Erin Ulloa of rental outfitter Ceiba Adventures, which has a trip slated to put in today.”We’ve worked with a lot of these river-runners for months and months. It’s sad for them to have made it this far—some have even come from other countries—only to be turned away when all you need is a volunteer checking them in at the put-in.”
Marble Canyon Lodge, a restaurant and general store a few hundred feet from the barricades, is letting the groups camp in the lodge parking lot. Meanwhile, permit holders called congressional representatives and others in a last-ditch effort to find a solution. Just as on Capitol Hill, hopes for a quick resolution quickly faded with the sun setting over the canyon walls.
“It had an eerie resemblance to the standoff in Washington,” says Martin. “In this case, the NPS is being totally and unrealistically inflexible. Self-guided river runners have a very good safety record and the NPS Rescue personnel are still on duty.”
When CBS caught wind of the altercation, it dispatched a film crew to spend the night.
Ulloa adds that this afternoon she received an email from Arizona House RepresentativeAdam Kwasman (R) saying he’s trying to call a special session together of lawmakers to try and get the park re-opened.
According to Grand Canyon National Park records, there are 16 river trips scheduled to launch in the first seven days of October, and 61 in all of October. The last government shut down in 1995 lasted 19 days, though Grand Canyon National Park remained open. Most groups attempting to gain access to the put-in are waiting at the road block in protest, and in hopes that they’ll be able to put on as scheduled.
“Our group has spent over $30,000 to plan this trip and make it happen, now we are being told to go home by unpaid park rangers,” rafter Drew Huemmler of Philadelphia told the Arizona Daily Sun.
Other permit holders are equally disgruntled. “We have friends flying in from as far away as Alaska on non-refundable tickets and have spent over $17,000 so far in NPS fees, food and equipment rental,” Kansas river runner Hilary Esry, who’s launch date is Oct. 7, told RRFW. “I have a contract with the FederalGovernment allowing me to launch, and so far, I have not been contacted from the National Park Service about a pending closure.
“We expect to be on our own and except for the mandatory orientation at Lee’s Ferry, we do not expect to interface with anyone from the NPS. I can’t tell you how nerve-wracking this is for our trip.”
Officials at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area say that river runners already on the river will be able to finish their trips as scheduled. People who have parked their vehicles at Lee’s Ferry’s long-term parking lot will be allowed to retrieve them with a law enforcement escort.
CLICK HERE to check out the local coverage of the issue.