No cheap thrills in the Grand Canyon

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

For years, rafters and kayakers have paid to float the muddy Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park. Typically, the trip cost private boating groups about $130. When the price jumped to around $1,500 per group for the trip last spring, boaters were shocked.

Billing people to float a river is "sort of like charging someone to breathe air," says Rich Hoffman, a staffer with the advocacy group American Whitewater.

It now costs $100 just to get on the waiting list for a river permit in Grand Canyon, and another $25 each year to stay on the list. Most people wait nine years before their turn comes up. Once you're picked, you get to pay another $200 for the final permit.

"Would you pay to wait in line to see a movie?" asks Hoffman. "We're not opposed to fees, but they need to be designed well, and with public input."

The jump is part of a special program known as "cost recovery," which is usually reserved for events such as movie filming, motorcycle rallies and weddings. Superintendents in many parks include backcountry camping in this "special use" category, because fee money stays on-site, and the law requires the agency to collect enough money to pay the full cost of the activities.

Grand Canyon management realized last year that the river program was not paying for itself, according to park spokeswoman Mallory Smith, and decided to raise fees to compensate. Smith acknowledges the agency didn't give the public time to react. "We regret that," she says. "We'll never do that again."

The cost recovery fees come as a double whammy to boaters. As a part of the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, entrance and backcountry fees in Grand Canyon are higher than ever. On top of permit costs, boaters now pay $20 per car just to get into the park and $4 per person per night in backcountry "impact" fees.

Cost recovery money goes into maintaining the permit waiting list, printing pamphlets, river information and a new waiting list newsletter, and resource protection. Fee demonstration money helps take care of canyon trails and campsites.

Hoffman says boaters are easy targets, accessing the river at a single spot. They are pulling more than their own weight, he says, while visitors who drive into the park - who are far more numerous than boaters - pay pocket change. He figures that with the new fees, boaters pay almost twice what the river program costs.

River ranger Patrick Hattaway says the higher fees have driven many boaters away. In recent years the park has received 1,300 permit applications, but this year there were only 625, he says. He estimates the park will pull in roughly 90 percent of the $275,000 it costs to run the river program for the year.

Still, the Grand Canyon program has caught the attention of higher-ups in Washington. "We realize some decisions were made that probably didn't make sense to the American public," says Dan Smith, aide to Utah Rep. Jim Hansen, reflecting on the season's fee changes.

"The boating fees in Grand Canyon have raised an awful lot of eyebrows."

For more information contact Mallory Smith at Grand Canyon National Park, 520/638-7702 or Rich Hoffman with American Whitewater at 301/589-9453.

High Country News Classifieds
  • MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    For more information visit www. wyofile.com/careers/
  • THRIVING LOCAL HEALTH FOOD STORE FOR SALE
    Turn-key business opportunity. Successful well established business with room to grow. Excellent highway visibility.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    For more information, visit www.wyofile.com/careers/
  • SONORAN INSTITUTE, CEO
    Chief Executive Officer Tucson, Arizona ABOUT SONORAN INSTITUTE Since 1990, the Sonoran Institute has brought together diverse interests to successfully forge effective and enduring conservation...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a high-impact, nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 27-year legacy using...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Position Summary Join our Team at the New Mexico Land Conservancy! We're seeking a Project Manager who will work to protect land and water across...
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • WILDLIFE HAVEN
    Beautiful acreage with Teton Creek flowing through it. Springs and ponds, lots of trees, moose and deer. Property has barn. Easy access. approx. 33 acres.
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...