Draft Grand Canyon management plan released
SUMMIT COUNTY – Colorado whitewater boaters waiting for years for a chance to paddle the Grand Canyon might have the line shortened, if a draft management plan for the Colorado River is passed.The proposed plan could cut the wait for a trip through the storied chasm by allocating permits through a weighted lottery system instead of the first-come, first serve waiting list currently in place. Boaters and concerned environmentalists will get their chance to weigh in on the recently released plan for the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon when the National Park Service hosts a Nov. 8 open house in Littleton.The new plan could affect local whitewater fans like Breckenridge open space and trails expert Heide Andersen, who said she was discouraged from signing up for the list years ago, not able to imagine herself waiting up to 10 years to get a permit.U.S. Forest Service lands expert Paul Semmer is another local river rat who has had some experience with the waiting list. Semmer said he signed up for a permit several years ago, but in the meantime, he’s hooked up twice with other parties to run the Grand Canyon – as a result, his name has been taken off the list, per National Park Service policy.
According to Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Joe Alston, yearly passenger totals for the famed whitewater stretch would be raised from about 20,000 to 26,000, with most of the increase allocated to noncommercial do-it-yourself rafters and kayakers.Alston has been on the waiting list himself for about 10 years, having signed up long before he became superintendent of the park. With his name now near the top of the list, he’s preparing to take his trip on the river next summer, but it’s not clear if the decades-long management dilemma will be resolved by then. For Alston, it’s clear that there’s no easy answer – the demand simply far exceeds the supply, and that will not change, regardless of any new management plan that’s ultimately put in place.The draft plan includes some “innovative management alternatives to balance all the diverse management objectives,” Alston said in a statement accompanying release of the draft in early October.
The issuesAt issue is how the limited number of permits are split between commercial outfitters and so-called private boaters – noncommercial rafters and kayakers who want to run the river without hiring a commercial guide.The other big question for the park service has to do with potential wilderness status for the river corridor through the park. Conservation activists argue that motorized rafts should be eliminated, along with the helicopter transfer of raft passengers, used to enable more lucrative and shorter commercial trips. Scenic helicopter flights should also be curtailed, according to groups like Colorado-based River Runners for Wilderness.”The issues that have plagued the river for the last 30 years are not addressed in this plan, including that of preserving the last greatest wilderness experience in the lower 48 states,” said Jo Johnson, the group’s co-director. “This is a feeble plan driven by political pressure, rather than protection of the park’s natural resources and wilderness character.”
The draft plan, including a massive environmental study, covers a 277-mile stretch of the river downstream from Lee’s Ferry (just below Utah’s Glen Canyon Dam). The Oct. 8 publication of the draft in the Federal Register triggered a 90-day public comment period, including the Nov. 8 public meeting in Littleton.The aim of the draft plan is to manage the river to “provide a wilderness-type experience,” and to keep the corridor “protected and preserved in a wild and primitive condition,” according to the National Park Service. Under the current plan, now decades-old, the park service says impacts to natural and cultural resources would continue at unacceptable levels. Faced with a tough juggling act, the agency seeks to balance the demand for raft trips, which exceeds the supply, with the need to protect the environmental and cultural values of the Grand Canyon, as well as the social and economic values of rafting activities in the spectacular gorge.Most significantly, the agency proposes reducing the maximum number of launches per day by at least a third, from nine to between four and six. Also proposed are reductions in maximum trip lengths and group sizes – all to reduce crowding in the camping and day-use areas along the river. But at the same time, seasonal adjustments in use would allow for an overall increase in the number of passengers, according to the draft plan.Additional meetings are set for Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Flagstaff and Phoenix, Ariz., and San Francisco.
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