'Hijacking' A World's Wonder

A New Book From A Flagstaff Publisher Tackles The Commercialization Of The Colorado River In The Grand Canyon

Arizona Daily Sun Staff Reporter January 4, 2004

Advocates for noncommercial boat trips in the Grand Canyon are approaching this year with the same trepidation as a series of class VI, boulder-strewn rapids. By Dec. 31, 2004, the National Park Service must complete a Colorado River management plan for the waterway's Grand Canyon stretch before renewing or augmenting the concessionaire contracts for the 14 commercial raft companies.

The Park Service also will have to figure out how to deal with the growing demand for private permits to run the river-- the waiting list is more than 8,000 permits long and up to 20 years. Some private boaters have organized as River Runners for Wilderness, they will start the year by adding a significant tome to their argument that the river has become too commercialized. This week, the organization will release "Hijacking a River: A Political History of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon" through the Flagstaff-based Vishnu Temple Press.

The 500-page book by Jeff Ingram of Tucson is a detailed, multi-sourced account of how river running, the idea of wilderness and federal management have had impacts on the Colorado in the Grand Canyon through the late 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. Tom Martin of River Runners hopes "Hijacking" will give people an opportunity to learn about how the river came to be managed like it is, with long waiting lists, continued motorized watercraft and bureaucratic resistance to wilderness designation. "When it comes to all the stuff we're dealing with today, Ingram has already been there," Martin said. "He knows the history, and this thing has been going on a long time."

Ingram became the first Southwest representative of the Sierra Club, a position given to him by then-president David Brower. In his work with the Sierra Club, Ingram found himself gaining intimate knowledge of the political landscape and how its changes affect management of the actual landscape. "Back in the 1970s, there was a number of things going on, with the proposed expansion of the park and river as wilderness," Ingram said. "I started collecting materials and saving files with the thought that I would write a history of Grand Canyon National Park and all of the things that have happened to it. Then, life got in the way, but modern history happened when the whole business of planning for the river started in late '90s."

Ingram met with Martin, and Martin asked him to write the book as a way to make more information public on how the past determined the present. "Today, the river runners haven't had a clue as to why we have to pack our solid wastes. They don't know how the commercial river companies become concessionaires," Martin said. "There's nothing else out there like ('Hijacking'). It's opening up a whole new realm of literature."

Martin and members of the River Runners contend that those who want to run private trips down the river are not getting much consideration. In December, park management decided to stop taking names for the private permit waiting list, noting that the list had grown too long. Reports from the Park Service show that they want to reduce the list's numbers as they are unsure of how the management plan will work. "I am just astonished," said Jo Johnson of River Runners, in an earlier interview. "I'm surprised they would do this, and it's not a nice surprise. There is already such a disenfranchisement of private boaters."

Martin said that, meanwhile, the Park Service has not put any restrictions on the commercial outfitters, which could conceivably book trips into 2005 and beyond. Martin is concerned that the park might be leaning toward a plan that penalizes private boaters, but he is optimistic that the Park Service has fully involved the public in the process. For river runners or environmentalists, Ingram has some advice based on his experiences with the Grand Canyon and the politics that affect it. "After 40 years in environmental matters, it's clear to me the most important thing is stamina," Ingram said. "It's possible that we could get a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, and all of the sudden the political landscape changes."

Reporter Seth Muller can be reached at 928-913-8607 or

The book is in! Advance orders are already in the mail (thank you!). RRFW is pleased to be able to take orders for Hijacking A River, 496 pages, including maps, readers guide, and index. The cost of this book is $20 ($17.95 each, plus $2.05 shipping and handling per book). Checks or money orders only please. Book sales will benefit River Runners For Wilderness, a not-for-profit organization seeking equitable access to a wilderness river running experience in Grand Canyon. Please send your order to

River Runners For Wilderness
PO Box 17301
Boulder, CO, 80308-0301

For additional book information and dealer inquiries, contact:
Vishnu Temple Press, PO Box 30821, Flagstaff, AZ 86003-0821