Lees Ferry Closed to River Runners

As the government shutdown of some federal agencies, including the National Park Service ends its 4th day, frustrated Grand Canyon river runners are camping in the parking lot at Marble Canyon Lodge, hoping for a breakthrough.

On Tuesday, October 1st, Park Service enforcement rangers erected a barricade across the road to the Lee’s Ferry access ramp where it meets Highway 89A. This is the only realistic access to the Colorado River at the start of a river trip through Grand Canyon.

Although river trips already on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon are allowed to finish their trips, none have been allowed to launch since the closure was implemented at noon, October 1, 2013. Those river trips already in the Canyon are not allowed to have people hike in and join the trip, unless that person is replacing a boat rower. Also barred from access at Lee’s Ferry are wade and float fishermen, hikers, sightseers and campers bound for the Lees Ferry Campground.

Marble Canyon Lodge is allowing river permittees and their trip members to camp in its parking lot, in anticipation of a resolution that would allow launching of river trips into Grand Canyon. Every day these self-guided groups do not launch, their chances of completing a Canyon run diminish. For safety, river runners need a minimum of thirteen to fifteen days to complete a river trip to the only open take-out at Diamond Creek, 226 miles downriver from Lee’s Ferry. During the month of October, river runners may take up to 21 days to cover this distance.

Grand Canyon river trips are so coveted, Grand Canyon National Park lets each person on the trip make the river journey only once a year, and some river runners have waited many years for the opportunity.

There have been several behind-the-scenes efforts to get the Park reopened for river runners and other recreationists. According to Grand Canyon National Park officials, a group of business leaders including Bill Parks of Northwest River Supply, working with Representative Ann Kirkpatrick (D, AZ) and Governor Jan Brewer, offered to pay to have the river access opened, but were apparently told that sufficient funding would need to be provided to open all the National Park Service units across the country.

On October 3, 2013, Grand Canyon National Park Deputy Superintendent Diana Chalfant and other NPS staffers met with three permit holders at the barricade on October 3, 2013. According to one permit holder on the verge of tears, the Deputy Superintendent spoke “a lot of empty platitudes”, gave no indication when or even if the trips would be able to launch and did not say if the river runners would be reimbursed their $100 per person fees paid to the Park Service.

Uncertain of when the Federal Government shutdown will end, river runners have no choice but to terminate their trip or proceed to the road barricade and wait, spending many tens of thousands of dollars in the process, hoping access to the river will be restored.