Outfitters do a lot for Grand Canyon

  Dear HCN,

Whether one supports wilderness for the Colorado River corridor in Grand Canyon or not, to inextricably link it with access for private boaters is wrong and very misleading (HCN, 12/21/98).

Part of the reason that there is such a long wait for private boaters to get to the river is that the current permit system is flawed. If all allocation were converted to private, the wait for a permit would still be years long under the same system. A waiting list and system that represents real passengers and real dates might go a long way towards alleviating some of the current problems.

Whether or not one agrees with motors on the river or the issue of wilderness at all, it is equally disingenuous to disregard the valuable contributions that the commercial companies (both motor and oar-powered) have made for Grand Canyon. It is largely due to the efforts of the outfitters and guides that the river corridor is so remarkably clean, and the beaches trash-free. The efforts of the commercial guides were a major factor in helping pass the Grand Canyon Protection Act in 1992. Several of the outfitters have for the past several years contributed equipment, food and guides to the Park Service Resource Management trips to help revegetate, rebuild trails and shore up camping areas. The motorized outfitters voluntarily decided to convert all their motors to low-emissions, quieter four-stroke motors by the early part of the next century. The Park Service, outfitters and guides have for many years now been involved in a partnership to educate guides and any other interested people about natural and cultural history, politics, environmental and scientific issues and policy changes at the annual Guide Training Seminars. Some of the outfitters have supported legislative efforts to restore "natural quiet" over the Grand Canyon by regulating commercial air tours. In addition, outfitters are working with environmental groups to protect the Grand Canyon's fragile seeps and springs.

It is equally misleading to somehow separate private boaters and commercial passengers as different. Many private boaters are simply along as passengers, and have no knowledge or desire to row (or motor) the canyon. In short, they are a lot like commercial passengers. And both commercial guests and private passengers are part of the American public. Commercial passengers choose to see Grand Canyon with a professional outfitter because they are entering what is for them an alien, overwhelming and frightening world.

Certainly, most commercial trips are "cushier" than most private trips, but the two types of trips emphasize different things. Commercial trips have a huge emphasis on education about the canyon's geology, archaeology, history and ecology, and since commercial passengers are not worrying about when or if they eat, how to make it through a particular rapid or where camp is, they are free to go far "deeper" than one might think. The enthusiasm and knowledge of the guides is passed on to clients in ways that change their lives, and should never be considered less important because it was paid for commercially.

It is true that the price of commercial trips has skyrocketed in recent decades, and that there are a number of disenfranchised constituents, such as educational organizations, disabled and At-Risk youth groups, who should have easier and cheaper access to the river. We would prefer to see an honest and open discussion of all sides of these issues, pro and con, rather than yet another article that polarizes the "private vs. commercial" and "motor vs. oar" sound bites even further. The real issues are whether the canyon and the river, inseparable in creation, should be separated by law, and how do we want to manage this magnificent and inspiring place?

The Grand Canyon Trust supports wilderness designation of the river corridor, while recognizing that management change on the river will take time and cooperation. Grand Canyon River Guides cannot take a unified stand on any of the options currently being debated for wilderness designation of the Colorado River, due to the widely differing opinions of our membership. But the outfitters' group supports wilderness principles in management for the river corridor.

Tom Robinson and Christa Sadler

Flagstaff, Arizona

Tom Robinson is director of government affairs for Grand Canyon Trust; Christa Sadler is president of Grand Canyon River Guides.

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