For the first time in 30 years, a concerted effort is underway to address the backlog of recreational issues surrounding the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. Issues such as who gets to go, allocation of use, the spectrum of concessions services, wilderness, helicopter and motorboat use issues are on the table. The next step in this process may be a week's worth of meetings in Phoenix, Arizona, at the end of January 2003.

During the summer, park planners once again undertook to move forward the Colorado River Management Plan "with much trepidation", according to park Superintendent Joe Alston. A series of public meetings was held this summer and fall from coast to coast across the nation, generating over 8000 comments from the general public by the close of the scoping comment period November 1, 2002. In an ongoing attempt to include stakeholders in this open public process, the Park is considering three meetings to further allow stakeholder input into the CRMP. These meetings are scheduled to occur at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. The meetings are tentatively planned for January 29, 30 and 31 and may possibly be connected via videoconference equipment to locations at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and the University of Arizona in Tucson.

RRFW has learned that there may be two focus group discussions, and two expert panel presentations. The focus groups will be on 1) The non-commercial access system and 2) The spectrum of river concessions services. The expert panels will cover 1) Carrying capacity, group size, and seasonality, and 2) Allocation of use. The findings of these focus groups and expert panels will be used by the Park's CRMP contractor in helping the Park draft several alternatives for the final plan. These alternatives, with one selected as the Park's "preferred" draft alternative are slated to be released during the summer of 2003.

RRFW feels that the final plan would be better served if the Park released a variety of preliminary alternatives for public comment prior to coming forward with a draft preferred alternative. This practice is an accepted management plan process, both within the National Park Service and other land management agencies. Denali National Park released a draft of preliminary alternatives for public review last year, with no preferred alternative selected. The draft with a preferred alternative should be released shortly for a second round of public review. The Bureau of Land Management is currently allowing two weeks of comments on preliminary draft alternatives for a wilderness management plan on the Gunnison Gorge (see www.gunnison-gorge-eis.com ). A review of this type allows additional public participation in the crafting of viable alternatives during the planning and development stages. RRFW is encouraging park planners to allow the interested public a similar opportunity for comment on alternative plans prior to the park identifying a draft preferred alternative.

Count on us to keep you informed on CRMP developments and other Grand Canyon issues as they come up.