It was announced today by both Lake Mead National Recreation Area (LMNRA) and Grand Canyon National Park officials that a two-mile extension of the Pearce Ferry Road to the Colorado River will open March 15, 2010.
Initial survey work was completed in January 2009, and the road and ramp construction was completed February 26, 2010. A restroom, ramp signage and a dock for Grand Canyon river concessions jet boats have yet to be installed.
Photos of the Pearce Ferry road extension and ramp taken March 2, 2010, are posted here:
According to LMNRA officials, the road extension project is the result of the lowering lake level of Lake Mead, down more than 120 feet over the last ten years. Access to the Pearce Ferry take-out on Lake Mead was closed to river runners exiting Grand Canyon river trips in 2001 when the water elevation dropped to 1,175 feet. Today the elevation of Lake Mead is at 1,100 feet.
In 2004, river runners noted that the Colorado River was scouring a new channel in the silts deposited by the waters of Lake Mead. This new channel occurring near Pearce Ferry created a new and ever-intensifying rapid. The development of this rapid, named Pearce Ferry Rapid is thoroughly documented at:
The formation of Pearce Ferry Rapid limited upstream river concessions jet boat travel for the Grand Canyon river tour operators that use the jet boat service to jet out their passengers from Grand Canyon river trips. A concessions motorized tour boat flipped in the rapid during last year’s commercial motorized tour boat season.
Pearce Ferry Rapid, now a solid Class V drop, has developed a ledge hole sized drop which can still be bypassed on river left. What has changed in the last three months is that once river runners bypass the main left hole, they must run a lower hole near the left shore.
A right run option has ledged over and is a sharp series of two four foot drops.
Portaging or lining the rapid on the right hand bank is an option as well. Photos of Pearce Ferry Rapid taken on Tuesday, March 2, 2010, are posted here:
Lake Mead officials note that the primary purpose of the road extension is to provide for river take-out operations for both self guided and commercial river trips exiting Grand Canyon National Park. According to the National Park Service, due to the close proximity to the developing Pearce Ferry Rapid, the public launching of boats is prohibited.
The Park Service also notes the river running take-out and de-rigging area is closed to swimming, fishing, camping and shoreline fires to prevent conflict with river runner operations. The NPS notes the public prohibition on launching will be revisited in one year following an evaluation of the risk to river runners from the developing Pearce Ferry Rapid.
According to the National Park Service, the six-month construction project was completed at a cost of approximately $1,000,000, and was funded by entrance fees collected at Grand Canyon National Park, and built by Interstate Rock Products out of Hurricane, Utah.
Uncertainty remains as to how long the ramp will be in service. Sources close to the project note there is concern that should the Colorado River breach Pearce Ferry Rapid just downstream of the new ramp, down-cutting would quickly occur upriver at the new ramp.
This rapid down-cutting could possibly make watercraft take-outs at the ramp very difficult.
According to John Weisheit of Living Rivers, the new ramp will also be impacted by silt deposited by upriver floods. “It will be interesting to see how much sediment is deposited on the concrete ramp during a big flash flood from the Little Colorado River or other upstream side canyons” notes Weisheit. “Building this road and ramp is a million dollar validation from the federal government that Lake Mead will never fill again.”
River Runners for Wilderness worked with Lake Mead officials to make sure this road was built to municipal road standards with public funds for the benefit of the entire river running community.
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