River Runners Fined for Running Grand Canyon during Shutdown
By Eugene Buchanan
When rangers on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon forbid Brian Kehoe from hiking down to the river to join his river trip at Phantom Ranch, the river-runner from Chico, Calif., weighed his options. The penalty for defying the Grand Canyon closure and government shutdown could be as much as $20,000, 30 days in jail and a five-year ban on entering national parks. On the other hand, his party needed an experienced boatman to safely finish its trip.
Kehoe decided to hike.
When they returned home from their trip in mid-October, Kehoe and his trip leader, John Boone, were served with court papers by certified mail. Both faced federal trespassing charges, Kehoe for hiking down the Bright Angel Trail to meet his party, and Boone for allowing him to join the trip. On Monday, Oct. 28 they had their day in court, so to speak. In a telephone conference call, they plead to lesser charges. Each paid a $750 fine.
It all started after the trip launched with 16 people on Sept. 30, the day before the government shutdown closed the park and NPS rangers barricaded the put-in road. Kehoe and Boone’s party had arranged in advance to switch five members at Phantom Ranch, one week into the three week trip. Boone sent five boaters out on mules, to be replaced by Kehoe and four others hiking in on foot. But rangers at the South Rim permitted only Boone's daughter, Kaydee, 23, to hike in. They told the others that they could not join the trip. Three complied, forfeiting more than $2,000 in fees and outfitting that are unrecoverable. Kehoe decided to ignore the rangers' orders, and hike down to join his family already on the trip.
"Safety-wise, we needed him on the trip," says Boone, of Oakley, Calif. Other rangers were waiting at Phantom Ranch. They too forbid Kehoe from launching, and Kehoe again ignored their orders. Says Boone: “We needed Brian on the trip to help. [The rangers] were jeopardizing the safety of our entire trip. So he decided to defy the order and continue on the trip."
For his part in allowing them to continue, Boone, who had been waiting 17 years to run the Grand Canyon for his first time ever, was also charged.
After finishing the trip, which he called "as great as it could have been," Boone and Kehoe received the citations in the mail for Monday's court date, listing the United States of America as the Plaintiff. They were able to handle the issue via a conference call and get the charges and penalty reduced.
Attorney Jim Moss, who specializes in Recreation Law, says Boone and Kehoe would have likely won the case had it gone to court, but that it would have been a more expensive proposition. "They probably could have beaten it," he says, "especially with the argument that they needed Kehoe for the safety of the trip. If it went to trial in that area, I doubt a jury of 12 people would have sided with the government. But this was probably a lot cheaper alternative for them."
Moss adds that he's glad this story and others resulting from the shutdown in the park are receiving their due publicity. "The stories about closing the national parks made the front page of newspapers across the country, and hopefully this one will also," he says. "The loss for all of us, besides the integrity of the NPS, is the people like this harmed by the closure who we will never know about."
As for Boone and his boating crew, it's water under the bridge and they were still able to pull off the trip of a lifetime, albeit it with a slightly higher price tag. "It was certainly a trip to remember, especially for our son and daughters," he says.
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