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Know the West

Parks want "drug-free' river guides

  The job description for a professional river guide might read like this: Must possess John Wesley Powell's fearlessness, Julia Child's culinary skills and the patience of Job. Now, add another requirement: Must pass a drug test.

Periodic drug testing began this past season for outfitters licensed in Grand Canyon National Park and may soon be routine in Utah's Canyonlands National Park and Dinosaur National Monument. While the Park Service won't test the guides itself, it will require rafting companies to complete detailed reports on their substance-abuse monitoring program.

Outraged river guides and outfitters are fighting the new policy. Four Grand Canyon guides have hired an attorney to bring a lawsuit while others have formed an Arizona-based nonprofit, Guides Defending Constitutional Rights.

"With each level of these regulations, we're driving the small, independent companies and individuals out of the river-running business," says 25-year Colorado River veteran Tom Moody. "What the average tourist will get is Denny's."

Park Service officials say drug testing of professional river guides is required by a 1988 federal law. "Whether boatmen like it or not, their job is a public safety position that is no different from being a bus driver," says Canyonlands National Park Superintendent Walt Dabney.

*Chris Smith