The National Park Service’s new plan for the Grand Canyon river corridor may torpedo wilderness advocates, who are already swimming against a tide of motorboats and helicopters.
Ten years ago, the Grand Canyon Management Plan required
park managers to devise a new recreation strategy for the Colorado
River that would address motorized usage, tourism’s impacts
on tribes, and protecting the canyon’s "wild and primitive
The plan, released in November, divides the
227-mile-long river corridor into two stretches: a long stretch
from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek, and the Lower Gorge, a
shorter but far more heavily trafficked stretch dominated by day
trips to Lake Mead. Although jet-boat tours were ruled out, the
Hualapai Tribe can take up to 600 motorized pontoon passengers and
three commercial overnight trips on the Lower Gorge each day
— three times more than they are now allowed, but far fewer
than the 1,800 passengers per day they originally requested, says
Mary Killeen, chief management analyst for the park.
Other provisions include transforming a decades-long waiting list
for noncommercial river permits into an annual lottery system, and
revamping concessionaire contracts for 16 commercial operators. In
addition, on the upper river, maximum group sizes and the number of
daily launches will drop, and the months restricted to oar-powered
access will more than double, to six months.
wilderness proponents say that continued motorized access ensures
the 1.1 million acres proposed for wilderness in the Grand Canyon
won’t be designated as such any time soon — and they
think it may take a lengthy lawsuit to override the entrenched
motorized use on the river. "The river is managed by politics,"
says Tom Martin, co-director of River Runners for Wilderness.
"They’re managing the resource for the benefit of the