River Runners For Wilderness has learned the much anticipated release of the Colorado River Management Plan (CRMP) at Grand Canyon National Park is now scheduled for September, with public meetings set for October. In the balance is Colorado River management for the next decade or more. Park planners are looking to have a Final CRMP by March, 2005, so that river concessions contracts can be renewed in 2005. All 16 of the river concession contracts will terminate if not renewed by December 31, 2005.
Issues the Colorado River plan will address include whether or not the park will continue to allow many large groups of concessions motorized tour boat trips to race through the canyon, and how rafting access is to be distributed between the parks river concessions contractors and the general public.
Grand Canyon National Park announced in November 2003 the park would no longer allow the public to sign up to raft the river on their own, citing a backlog of over 8,000 do-it-yourself permits pending to raft the canyon. This spring, the Grand Canyon river concessions offered sizeable discounts, even going so far as to offer discounts to repeat customers, in an attempt to fill empty bookings for 2004 and 2005.
The CRMP is supposed to address the distribution of use between the river concessions, which presently hold access to over 80% of river visitation, and the general public. Mary Fleischmann, President of North West Rafters Association, comments there's so much going on behind the scenes that we don't know about, meanwhile it's business as usual for the commercial companies. It's frustrating watching this chess game without any river access for the self guided boater.
Issues between river runners about who gets to go are only part of the equation, as drought continues to grip the southwest. Present forecasts indicate there may not be enough water in the river to float the thirty seven foot concessions tour boats that travel through the rocky river channel. By 10 year contract, three out of four river concessions trips use this type of large motorized watercraft.
John Weisheit, Colorado River Keeper from Moab Utah, notes "small oar powered rafts will still be able to go through Grand Canyon, but the big motorized tour boats will get stranded in the rapids, just like in the summer of 2000 when the park had to use helicopters to lift concessions passengers off their stranded motorboats." Park planners are also considering shortening river rafting trip lengths for the general public. Low water flows caused by the drought will slow the speed at which oar rafts travel. This will make it more difficult to raft through the park in a shorter time frame if trip lengths are reduced. "It will be interesting to see how park planners address low water levels in the CRMP" notes Weisheit.
"Given what's at stake in this management plan" notes Tom Martin, Co-Director of River Runners For Wilderness, "it's of utmost importance that river runners and wilderness lovers let their voices be heard in the upcoming comment period. It's time to end the commercialization and wilderness value destruction occurring in this icon park."