River Runners Want Larger Share Of Grand Canyon

River Runners want larger share of Grand Canyon
By Chris Barge, Camera Staff Writer
October 9, 2003

So let's say you're a hard-core paddler who wants to lead your own trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Now, pretend you want to do that some time in the next decade. Good luck.

Under the current wait-list system, you'd have to buy a Day Planner for the year 2023 before finding a page to pencil in a trip. The wait list for recreational paddlers is about 20 years long. If you want to go this year, cash in those stocks: A spot is waiting for you on a commercial trip with one of the many outfitters that share 68 percent of the trip allocations.

A woman from Boulder and a man who spends most of his time near the Grand Canyon are trying to rally the public behind a movement to change the status quo. Jo Johnson of Boulder and guide book author Tom Martin co-founded River Runners for Wilderness one year ago. Martin will present a slide show tonight to promote their organization and his updated guidebook, "Day Hikes from the River: 100 Hikes from Camps on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park."

The book, an expanded version of his first guide, points out fun side hikes from the river for the 32 percent of river runners who are going it on their own. He says he hopes the book warms people to the idea of joining his and Johnson's cause. Together, Johnson and Martin are trying to get the public engaged as the National Park Service develops a new Colorado River Management Plan. "There has been 30 years of stagnation down there to the benefit of an oligopoly of concessionaires," Martin said. "Fixed allocations don't work."

The Park Service is scheduled to publish a draft environmental impact statement for the plan this fall. It will address the allocation system, as well as whether to continue allowing motorized boats on the river. Commercial outfits in the canyon like using motor boats because they allow them to offer customers longer river trips over fewer days. Johnson says, in addition to being expensive, fast trips rob visitors of the true immersive psychological experience that the Grand Canyon can provide. Hooey, says Mark Grisham, executive director of the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association, which represents the concessionaires. Go to Minneapolis or Dallas and fill an auditorium with people who would seriously consider taking a river trip through the Grand Canyon, he said. Then, ask for a show of hands to these questions: Who wants to book an outfitter for a one- to two-week trip? Now, who wants to round up their own gear, own group and all the time off necessary to do the trip on their own? "We don't think that show of hands would be 50-50," Grisham said. "We think it would be more like 95-five."

Grisham said he and Martin disagree on how many commercial boats should run the river. It's the right mix, Grisham said. It's the antiquated wait-list system that needs to change. He suggests introducing a lottery. Both sides agree that the current method for private boaters to get on the water needs improvement. "That's why people are so pissed off," Grisham said. "They feel like the Park Service has let them down, so we become the for-profit bad guys."

The Grand Canyon River slide show and park plan update will be from 7 to 9 p.m. today at the Dairy Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. For more information, call Johnson at (303) 443-1806. Martin's book is available at www.vishnutemplepress.com. For more information on the Colorado River Management Plan, visit www.nps.gov/grca/crmp/.

Contact Chris Barge at (303) 473-1389 or bargec@dailycamera.com.
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