New Grand Canyon Plan Meets Many Objectives
By: Kevin Colburn
American Whitewater has reviewed the new plan for managing the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. We have pulled out relevant information from the National Park Service’s documents and will share that information below. In general, the new plan resolves many problems with the old plan, while making some changes that will negatively impact users. Shorter trips, and limiting users to one trip per year will certainly impact both commercial and noncommercial paddlers. With this being said, the new plan will phase out the ridiculous wait list and replace it with a better system that will improve the chances of each self-outfitted boater getting on the river in a timely manner. The plan also resolves several issue of fairness, and is sensitive to the many citizens already on the wait list. The NPS plan meets many of our interests, and while not without its costs, we commend the NPS for tackling this issue and for developing a promising solution to a complex host of river management challenges. We look forward to working with the NPS and other stakeholders to implement the new plan.
American Whitewater worked closely with several other organizations to advocate for many of the changes in the new plan. AW staff traveled to the Southwest for numerous stakeholder meetings over the past several years, and joined a group of likeminded organizations in a lawsuit against the National Park Service in 2000 that forced the NPS to develop a new plan. On January 25, 2005 American Whitewater joined the GCPBA, the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association and Grand Canyon River Runners Association in making a historic joint recommendation to the Park Service that included equal annual allocations of commercial and non-commercial use, the continuation of an appropriate type and level of motorized and non-motorized recreational opportunities, seasonal adjustments that would result in fewer river trips happening at one time, and improvements to the non-commercial river trip permitting system.
The Lottery Replacing the Wait List
The NPS is phasing out the current wait list for private trips and replacing it with a weighted lottery system. People that are currently on the wait list will have a variety of options for getting on the river prior to people not on the wait list, and more quickly than under the old system. This process will phase the wait list out over the next several years at which time the weighted lottery will function on its own. The weighting system is designed to give priority to people that have paddled the river less recently, over others who have been on the river more recently. The system resolves several issues and will allow more private boaters to paddle the river.
Details of The New Plan
One Trip Per Person Per Year: To maximize opportunities of the public to access and experience Grand Canyon river trips, use in the Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek section will be limited to one river trip per year for all recreational users, whether going commercially or noncommercially. The NPS will review repeat use information annually. Modifications may be implemented as needed.
Shorter Noncommercial Trips: The maximum noncommercial oar trip length will be reduced to 16 days in summer (from18), 18 days September 1-15 (from 21), 21 days in the remainder of the shoulder seasons (from 21), and 25 days in winter (from 30 days currently).
Fewer Launches Per Day: Launches per day will be decreased to a maximum of six (from nine).
Smaller Private Group Option: Noncommercial trip sizes will remain at the current level of 16 people (standard), and a new group size of 8 (small) will be offered to reduce campsite competitionalong the river.
Private Use Allowed to Increase: Noncommercial use is not capped, increasing to 113, 486 (from an average of 51,889)
More Winter Use: Winter use will increase to accommodate approximately 1,855people per year (from 318).
Longer Non-Motorized Season: The non-motorized use season will increase to 6.5 months (September 16 through March 31)
Fewer Trips at One Time: The maximum number of trips at one time will be reduced to 60 (from 70).
Fewer People at One Time: The maximum number of people at one time will be reduced to 985(from 1,095)
Slightly More Total Annual Visitors: The estimated number of recreational passengers will be increased to 22,802 (from 22,143).
More Trips Each Year: The estimated number of trips launching will be increased to 981 (from 866).
More User Days: The estimated number of user-days will be increased to 194,899 (from 164,972).
Shorter Noncommercial Motor Trips: Noncommercial motor trips will be reduced to 12 days in summer (from 18), 12 days in the shoulder seasons (from 21), and no motor trips would be allowed in winter.
Issues Specific to Commercial Use
Smaller Commercial Groups: Commercial motor trip sizes will be reduced to 32 people in the summer and 24 people during the rest of the year (from 43). Commercial oar trip sizes will be reduced to 32 people in the summer and 24 people during the rest of the year (from 39).
Shorter Commercial Motor Trips: The maximum trip length for commercial motor trips will be reduced to 10 days in summer and 12 days in theshoulder seasons (from 18).
Shorter Commercial Oar Trips: The maximum trip length for commercial oar trips will be reduced to 16 days in summer (from 18), and 18 days in the shoulder seasons (from 21)
No Winter Commercial Trips: There will be no winter commercial trips (from 30 days currently).
Capped Commercial Use: Commercial use will be capped at current levels of 115,500 user days.
Limited Generator Use: Generator use will be limited to emergency situations and inflating rafts. Generators may not be used in the river corridor for other purposes including providing power for lights, appliances or sound equipment. The use of generators for other purposes will be evaluated through the minimum requirement process.
Guides Must Hike with Commercial Passengers: Commercial passengers must be accompanied by a NPS-approved guide on all trip-related hikes, including hiking exchanges into and out of the canyon.
Commercial Guides Counted in Group Size Limits: Guides and other commercial crew will be counted within the group size limits (32 in summer, 24 the rest of the year). The NPS recognizes that guides serve as educators and promote minimum impact practices; however, this use is indistinguishable from other users regarding some social and ecological impacts. The number of commercial guides and crew will not count against user-day allocations, but they will be included when reporting actual river use statistics.
No Camping at Tapeats and Kanab Creeks: Visitation at the mouth of Tapeats and Kanab creeks will be restricted to day-use only. River trips must camp well above or below the mouth of Tapeats and Kanab creeks to protect natural and cultural resources in these areas.
Limited Access to the Little Colorado River: No boats will be allowed to enter or park in the Little Colorado River. To stop in the vicinity of the Little Colorado River, boats that launched from Lees Ferry may park upstream or downstream of the confluence. Swimming and wading in the Little Colorado River will be allowed year round in the northern half of the river. The southern half of the river from the confluence to the park boundary (located approximately two miles upstream) will be closed to river runner swimming and wading from March 1st to November 30th. River runners hiking the Little Colorado River who need to cross between the north and south sides will be allowed to wade and cross at the established crossing (marked by cairns), approximately 0.2 miles upstream of the confluence. Camping and fishing bans will remain in place. The purpose of these restrictions is to protect native fish habitat (including phragmites along the south bank
of the Little Colorado River) and spawning and young of the year humpback chub (an endangered species).
Whitmore Exchanges: Passenger exchanges will be allowed at Whitmore to accommodate trips launching during the mixed use season (April 1 through September 15) with a time-of-day restriction (i.e., all exchanges must be completed by 10:00 A.M. local time each day). Exchanges of commercial passengers would only be allowed by companies currently conducting Whitmore exchanges (i.e., grandfather clause in contracts).
For additional detailed information we recommend reviewing the following link to the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association.