Rafting at the Grand. Photo courtesy Wikimedia

Rafting at the Grand. Photo courtesy Wikimedia

By Eugene Buchanan

After a 12-day hiatus, river trips began launching on the Grand Canyon on Saturday, Oct. 11, for a period of at least seven days – thanks, in part, to a gaggle of river runners, including raft and accessory maker NRS.

On Saturday, the National Park Service announced that it had entered into an agreement with the State of Arizona allowing Grand Canyon National Park to re-open and temporarily operate during the government shutdown. The move was a result of Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell saying she'd consider agreements with governors provided they fund park re-openings in their states.

In Arizona, it started with the town of Tusayan Mayor Greg Bryan, who had access to Arizona Governor Janice Brewer and had raised $196,000 through local donations as well as an additional $200,000 from the town to get South Rim access re-opened. Meanwhile, NRS was trying to find a way to get Lee's Ferry re-opened through a monetary donation. River advocate Tom Martin, co-director of River Runners for Wilderness, caught wind of NRS's altruistic efforts and directed NRS company founder Bill Parks to Bryan. "We had run into a dead end trying to work through Arizona Rep Ann Kirkpatrick," says NRS account manager Robert Crump. "So Bill committed $30,000 to the fund under the stipulation that Lee's Ferry would be included in the reopening."

The tactic worked, and the park was reopened on Saturday, Oct. 12, through Oct. 18, allowing river runners to once again float its hallowed canyons. The agreement funds the park for a period of seven days at the donated amount of $651,000, a majority of which came from coalition funding.

"She [Gov. Brewer] was truly surprised at the amount of $426,500 from our coalition," says Bryan, adding that if any of the funds get repaid they will reimburse all contributors proportionally.

But the jury's out as far as the park staying open past Oct. 18. "We have no ideas on what might happen after Oct. 18," says Scott Davis of outfitter Ceiba Adventures. "Because the feds haven't committed to any repayment to the states for opening the park, we feel it's very tenuous at best."

Still, it's a stroke in the right direction toward getting paddlers back where they belong—on the water. In all, 21 private river launches and six commercial launches were scheduled over the first two weeks in October.

"This is a practical and temporary solution that will lessen the pain for some businesses and communities in Arizona during this shutdown," said Secretary Jewell. "We want to re-open all of our national parks as quickly possible for everyone to enjoy and call on Congress to pass a clean continuing resolution to open the government."

Regulations for Permit Holders Unable to Launch

The National Park Service at Grand Canyon National Park announced that all river permit holders who were denied their scheduled launch due to the government shutdown will receive a refund for permit fees. They will also be entitled to reschedule for a Colorado River trip with their choice of dates in 2013, 2014, 2015 or 2016. The permit holder will be required to submit their choices within 60 days of the government reopening. No more than three launches will be permitted in a day and the new trip must adhere to the trip length of the chosen season.

Permittees who had launch dates three days prior to opening and including opening day, may choose to get a refund for permit fees and reschedule with the same parameters as outlined above or launch after opening. The maximum number of launches will be adjusted to four per day for the first two days after opening. After that, the maximum will be three launches per day until the backlog has been cleared. River permit holders with the current launch date will have priority to launch on their scheduled date.

Commercial river companies that have scheduled launches during the government shutdown will be able to carry over lost user days that occurred under the government shutdown in the 2014 season. A user day is equal to one passenger on the river over the period of one day. Therefore, if a company was to launch with 10 passengers for 10 days, they'll be able to carry over 100 user days in the 2014 season.