In blatant disregard for its own prohibition against motors, Grand Canyon National Park authorized a motorized pickup of what remained of a commercial dory during the annual motor-free season which began September 15th and ends December 15th.
Concessionaire Arizona River Runners' fiberglass and wood dory, part of a 5 raft, 2 dory trip that launched September 18th, crashed against the right side rock wall in Horn Creek Rapid on September 23rd. According to eyewitnesses, the guide and customers swam free and were safely rescued during the incident with no reported injuries.
The bow was completely destroyed although the stern remained intact. Remains of the wreck were pulled out of the river and left in a heap at Monument Camp above the high water line. A 22 foot Hatch snout with Honda 4 stroke engines was authorized by the Park to retrieve the remains of the wreck despite the motor-free season, calling it an emergency.
According to National Park Service policy, wilderness managers are required to work through a decision matrix to determine the most wilderness-compatible method and "tools" to get a job done. In life-threatening emergency situations, mechanized tools such as helicopters may be used.
"This was essentially a trash truck doing a trash pickup," said Tom Martin of River Runners for Wilderness, who was camped at Tuckup Canyon and witnessed the motor evacuation of the dory remains. "It is hard to fathom how this was justified as an emergency by the Park since the dory was not even in the water and the personnel and gear were safely downriver."
"The Park Service has clear mandates to evaluate management options to minimize impacts to the wilderness experience of visitors," added Kim Crumbo of Arizona Wilderness Coalition, "Particularly when other canyon travelers have every right to expect they would not encounter motors in the canyon during that season except in emergency situations...this was not an emergency."
Grand Canyon's river and backcountry were recommended by the Park to become wilderness nearly 30 years ago. It remains a "proposed potential" wilderness, a classification which requires, by law, that it be treated by the managing agency as if it had already been formally designated as wilderness by Congress.
"It is sad enough that the Park continues to allow what it admits is the "nonconforming" use of motor boats during 9 months of the year, but doubly so when it can't even adhere to its own wilderness rules during the other three months" observed Jo Johnson, also of River Runners for Wilderness.
River Runners for Wilderness has joined Arizona Wilderness Coalition and Wilderness Watch in requesting an explanation for the action by the Park.