March 2004. Last November 4th, River Runners for Wilderness representative Tom Martin was asked to leave the annual River Concessions meeting at its start. In stark contrast, Grand Canyon National Park welcomed all comers-Incidental Business Permittees (IBP), their spouses, backcountry guides, public backpackers, representatives from Grand Canyon Field Institute, Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association, The Sierra Club, River Runners For Wilderness, and others to the 4th annual Backcountry Guides Training Seminar. IBP holders conduct overnight backpacking trips in Grand Canyon National Park.
Unlike the annual River Concessions meeting with the Park which is closed to the public, the annual Backcountry meeting is open to the public and particularly, backcountry users. Mike Buchheit, Director of the Grand Canyon Field Institute, hosted the two-day event. Representatives of a number of Grand Canyon National Park departments, including Interpretation, Resource Protection, Archeology, Concessions (which manages the IBPs) and Permitting gave presentations. Tours of the NPS Helibase with discussion of evacuation protocols, and NPS Special Collections were also offered. Special presentations by Grand Canyon experts included a review of Grand Canyon injuries by Dr. Tom Myers, Canyon geology by Andre Potochnik Ph.D., Grand Canyon trail history by Mike Anderson, and a backcountry slideshow by Mike Coltrin.
In contrast to the management of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, where access is allocated with the majority of use going to river concessions, backcountry permits are distributed in a universal-permitting model. In the backcountry, the general public competes for permits with IBPs that have identified customers. Extraordinarily, when challenged by an IBP that the permit system is unfair for the IBP, an NPS backcountry representative replied, "This Park is a world heritage site. We are striving to develop an equitable permit plan for all backcountry visitors and the IBP's who operate in the backcountry. It may seem unfair to you, but it's equitable to everyone."
"When I heard this, I nearly fell out of my chair" said Tom Martin, co-director of River Runners For Wilderness, who attended the Backpacker's Seminar. "Having been refused attendance-even as a non-participatory observer-at the annual NPS-River Concessions meeting just 3 months ago, it's so refreshing to see the Park enthusiastically support an open, equitable permit system and the free dissemination of information. An equitable permit process like this one is exactly the outcome we are looking for from the upcoming Colorado River Management Plan" noted Martin.