March 2002. For the last three winters, Grand Canyon National Park has released additional non-commercial river permits to float the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park during the secondary use season. The secondary use season for non-commercial river runners covers the winter months from October 16 to April 15. In the winter of 1998, 27 additional launches were added. This increased to 40 additional launches in the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 winter seasons. These launches were in addition to the roughly 60 secondary season launches allowed under the 1989 river management plan. RRFW has learned this test will not be repeated.
According to Linda Jalbert, Grand Canyon National Park Recreation Planner, the test was initiated in the fall of 1998. The purpose of the "test" was to examine noncommercial interest in winter use, and also to determine impacts to natural and cultural resources during this period. In April 1999, the park staff began evaluating the possibility of extending this "winter test". Continuation of the winter test period required that this action be evaluated in the context of NPS compliance policy. In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the action was approved through the 2001-2002 secondary season. According to Jalbert, the environmental analysis of this increased winter use for the "test period" will be incorporated into the forthcoming NEPA process for the revision of the 1989 Colorado River Management Plan.
Donnie Dove, owner of Canyon River Equipment Outfitters, was upset on hearing the news. According to Dove, Canyon REO outfitted a lot of these test winter trips, and were employing staff year round to serve the river runners rafting in the winter. "We will have to let these employees go without these launches. Park staff told us that the test showed that there is demand for winter river trips, so the test was stopped. If there's demand, why not continue the test and blend it into the new management plan? There goes our winter business."
Secondary season use will drop back to 1997 levels, and during the month of February, 2003, there will be no non-commercial launches at Lee's Ferry. This will occur with a backlog of 7000 plus non-commercial permits and stimulated demand caused by the test itself. In May, 2002, the GCNP river permits office booked all the remaining secondary season launches for the 2003-2004 secondary winter season. Available secondary season launches were distributed over 5 days, with an increase of 1500 Waiting List permit holders each day. This is the first time in the history of river running in Grand Canyon that all the secondary season launches were claimed by day 4 of the 5-day call-in period. Individuals with Waiting List numbers over 5999, who could only call in on the 5th day, found that all the remaining secondary season permits had been claimed the day before.
Joe Bennion, long time Canyon river visitor who has taken advantage of visiting the Canyon in January for the three test winters, said he was disappointed to see the winter test stopped. "The additional trips allowed anyone on the Waiting List a chance at rafting the Canyon." According to Bennion, last winter during the test, there were permits available for permit holders with a waiting list of 6000 and above. This year, without the additional launches, there were no permits left for permit holders above the 6000 cut off.