Boat Museum Feasibility Study Ignores Important History

The Grand Canyon River Outfitters Trade Association has released a feasibility study for their vision of a Historic Boat Museum at the South Rim Village in Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park has been considering a museum to display the Park’s fleet of historic river boats for the last seven years. The original concept was to showcase a diverse and regionally significant collection of fourteen historic boats that contribute to the rich river running history of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon.

The oldest boat in the collection is from the 1909 Julius Stone river trip, and the youngest is Otis “Dock” Marston’s sport yak used on a 1963 Grand Canyon low water river trip. Each boat has a unique story to tell about river running in Grand Canyon

In 2009, Grand Canyon National Park approved a proposal by the river concessions to use the Colorado River Fund (CRF) to pay for the feasibility study. The CRF, a not-for-profit organization operated by the river concessionaires, contracted for the study to look at ways to present the park’s historic river boats in a museum at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

While the original intent of the museum is most laudable, the study’s proposed coverage of the Park’s important river artifacts is patently uneven. The feasibility study divides the river boats into three broad categories: pre and post World War II histories, and contemporary history. This arbitrary division never considers the construction of Glen Canyon Dam, which has clearly impacted the river and river runners more than any other event in the 20th century.

The study focuses the museum on only one pre-World War II boat in the collection, the commercial boat WEN used by Norm Nevills in 1938. Ignored in this time period are the two  river running boats EDITH and DEFIANCE used by the Kolb Brothers in 1911, the 1921 United States Geological Survey boat GLENN, and the 1909 STONE boat, used on a self guided trip organized by Julius Stone.

In the post World War II section, the report highlights the two motorized boats in the collection while seven muscle powered watercraft from this time period are mostly ignored. These include the first dory and kayak to run through the Canyon.

The feasibility study stresses developing excitement for taking a Colorado River trip by including the display of a contemporary 36 foot inflatable motorized tour boat.

The concept of promoting interest in contemporary river trips is in stark contrast to the Park’s 2006 Colorado River Management Plan. That plan stated the demand for river trips already far exceeds the available supply of river trips. Regulations such as the one-river-trip-per-year rule are supposedly in place to help manage the overwhelming demand for river trips.

Two key interpretive concepts, both very well documented, are entirely missing in this feasibility study. They are the river concessions’ attempts to block wilderness designation for the Colorado River in the Park, and the lack of any mention of the ongoing struggle for equitable river runner access to the Colorado River in Grand Canyon between the Park’s concessionaires and the public wishing to run the river without the use of concessions services.

The study is at this link:

At present the Park Service is not officially accepting public input, but your comments on this study should not go unheard, and river runners are encouraged to voice their opinion on this study if they wish. Direct your views to:

Superintendent Steve Martin

Grand Canyon National Park

PO Box 129

Grand Canyon AZ 86023

Or by e-mail to