RRFW Riverwire – Lottery Loser? Visit Your Congressional Representatives Office!
April 26, 2015
The Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park is known around the world for its premier wilderness and whitewater values. The number of river trips is closely managed by the National Park Service to preserve wilderness qualities in the Grand Canyon. Many river runners give Grand Canyon National Park high marks for controlling the number of river trips allowed to pass through the Canyon each year.
But the praise ends there. How those river trips are distributed between do-it-yourself river runners and the Park’s river concessionaires remains a highly contested issue.
In February of 2015, Grand Canyon National Park conducted the annual lottery for do-it-yourself river trips for calendar year 2016. Over 4,900 applicants paid $25 each to compete for 472 available launches. A few weeks after the initial lottery, the National Park Service conducted a follow-up lottery for 2016, where over 2,700 applicants vied for 74 launch opportunities.
While the do-it-yourself river runners were playing the Main Lottery for 2016, a quick internet search and a few phone calls revealed that the river concessionaires had hardly started filling their 2016 trips. Both the 2016 and 2017 season were wide open with hundreds of river trips available for immediate charter for regularly scheduled dates.
Heavily subsidized by the National Park Service for over forty years, twelve river concessionaires operate guided rafting trips through Grand Canyon. Access for these trips has been guaranteed yearly since 1972, and prices per person now costing as much as $3,000 for a six-night river trip.
In 2006, Grand Canyon National Park introduced a new river management plan. The new plan went from a first come-first served “Waiting List” to a lottery for do-it-yourself river runner permits. When the National park Service transitioned to the lottery, Park officials justified the switch by pointing out that the waiting time on the Waiting List had grown to almost 25 years. Park officials then estimated it would take the same amount of time to win the lottery, only the certainty of actually obtaining a permit had been removed.
Do-it-yourself river trip demand for the primary summer season has resulted in the probability of an individual application winning a coveted river trip being around 2%. If the number of dates allocated and number of the public applying stays consistent with the last nine years of data, the probability of an individual winning a permit in ten years is around 19% and winning in twenty five years is around 40%. The old Waiting List guaranteed river runners eventually being allocated a permit for a once in a lifetime Grand Canyon river trip, while the lottery clearly does not.
Given the overwhelming demand for river access by the do-it-yourself public, access to the Colorado River in Grand Canyon has been litigated a number of times. The courts have consistently noted allocations must be made on a fair and rational basis. As more and more do-it-yourself river runners are being denied opportunities to enjoy the park with their families and friends, the present access model has proved neither fair nor rational. The courts also noted the National Park Service cannot lawfully operate a system in which the procedure for reserving space is more difficult for the do-it-yourself public than for a concessionaires trip.
Tom Martin, co-founder of the Flagstaff, AZ, based River Runners for Wilderness, notes it is time for a direct request for assistance from Congressional representatives. According to Martin, concerned river runners should request an informational meeting with their Congressperson’s representative caseworker. At that visit, river runners should request their senators and representatives help them to secure a river permit by sending a letter to the Honorable Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Department of Interior, voicing their concern with the current access imbalance and unavailability of Grand Canyon river permits.
The letter should simply state that as a do-it-yourself river runner you have been denied noncommercial access after applying to an annual lottery for several years, that immediate access is readily available by paying a concessionaire, and that the current management plan is clearly inequitable. The letter should state this situation is wrong and in violation of the American values of equality and access for all, not just access for those with money that use a subsidized river concessionaire.
Martin suggests including in your letter that recent reports in the news media note the National Parks bemoan the fact that they seem to be losing relevancy with the American people, especially with younger generations. Your letter should point out that a sure way to lose relevancy is to deny access to the American public who want to run rivers themselves.
Copies of lottery denials should also be included in any correspondence to the Department of Interior.
Finally, Martin notes it is very important to mention that you called a travel agent, Grand Canyon river concessions or searched the web and can verify it is possible to book 16 seats on a river trip for the following year or two. Any date and any type of river trip, oar powered or motorized, will do. “The public has a right to run the Colorado River in Grand Canyon without having to pay a concessionaire” he noted. “We recognize the resources is limited and must be managed to protect the resource. However, do-it-yourself river runners have a right to a fair shake when it comes to river access. At the very least, your action will help Congress become aware of this inequitable situation.”
River Runners For Wilderness has set up a web page to help river runners contact their Congressional representatives here: https://rrfw.org/congressional-help
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