No More Frequent Floating?

October 2002. Sources indicate that planners in the River Permits Office in Grand Canyon National Park may be considering yet another avenue to limiting the number of trips taken by self-guided boaters not on the waiting list to one trip in a given period.

This new rule, if imposed, would apply only to exactly those participants who can help make trips safer, richer in Canyon lore, and more environmentally aware; that is, non-commercial boaters who have been down the Grand Canyon before.

At the same time, the Park continues to discriminate in favor of commercial guests (who can go as many times as they can afford in time and money), and in favor of commercial employees, who are, of course, the most frequent users of the river, and who are not barred from using non-commercial slots for themselves even if they have taken several commercial trips that same year.

There are already 2 rules that limit repeating a trip: 1. Non-commercial participants may take only 1 trip while they are on the waiting list (a minimum of 12 to about 20 years). 2. Anyone unlucky enough to be included on a trip in which the permit passes from the original to an alternate trip leader will be thrown off if they have made a non-commercial trip in the past 4 years, including the alternate trip leader.

The timing is troubling: Is GCNP suggesting changes that are plainly biased in favor of commercial operations just as the CRMP process is getting underway? This kind of pro-commercial rule proposal erodes public confidence in the Park's ability to produce a river plan that will benefit anyone but the river industry and its wealthier clients.

According to the statistics furnished on the River Permit Statistics handout (, repeaters filled about 19% of the trips slots during the nearly 4 years from 4-98 to 1-01. Similar data for commercial operations do not appear on Park handouts, but information from the mid-nineties shows that commercial crew fill 18% of commercially-launched seats. That is, the experienced-to-passenger ratio is about the same for both commercial and non-commercial trips.

Unfortunately, even Draconian new rules may not move the waiting list much faster. If trip vacancies are filled by non-repeaters, there will be no change. Of course, to keep expenditures down, cost-sharing non-commercial trips that lose a passenger or two will try to find replacements--if time allows. But even if those vacancies are not filled, rough calculations indicate the wait could be shortened by four years or less from the current 19+ years by turning the user days into new permits.

Having an experienced Grand Canyon passenger on your trip list sets you up for possible GCNP rule changes aimed at reducing your choice of companions as well as your safety and enjoyment, in the slim hope that these "forced cancellations" might create space for some more trips. Some non-commercial trips would go with less-than-optimal qualifications, increasing the chance for situations in which NPS and commercial staff can criticize the conduct of non-commercial trips. Additionally, there could be a huge increase in cancellations if permittees feel unqualified to conduct their trips with little or no experience, and therefore cancel their trips. RRFW sincerely hopes this information is incorrect and such a new rule is not being considered.

RRFW has also heard that about 300 unused commercial user days may be turned over to the do-it-yourself sector this year according to the terms of gcpba's court settlement agreement.