Grand Canyon opens debate over river permits

The Associated Press
Tucson Citizen

Aug. 8, 2002
PHOENIX - Grand Canyon National Park officials say they're dealing with a tricky balancing act as they try to design a new plan for Colorado River use that will affect about 23,000 boaters and river runners each year.
Determining who should get access to the river, whether motorized rafts and boats should continue to ply the river, and how to divvy up trips between commercial and private operators are expected to be hot topics at public meetings in Flagstaff and Mesa this month.
Environmental groups, who want motorized craft on the river to be phased out, say the National Park Service needs to control who has access to the 250-mile Colorado corridor.
Living Rivers, a group dedicated to the river's restoration, and other groups that have banded together as the Grand Canyon Wilderness Alliance want a greater allocation to individuals and groups that travel the river using their own equipment and expertise.
"We're losing native species, turning the river into a carnival attraction," said Kim Crumbo, a member of the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association. "This is an American park. This is not the back yard of Las Vegas and Flagstaff. They really need to reach out to the nation."
Crumbo argued that the system for river trips is skewed toward an economic elite, because most of the trips go to people who sign up for commercial trips that cost around $200 a day. If they're willing to pay, he said, people can make a river trip within a year or two of making a reservation.
But as a private boater, Crumbo said, it will take nearly 20 years before his name is called from a waiting list.
Parks officials say the average wait for a private trip is 19 years. There isn't a comparable statistic for the commercial operations because they use price, not time, to ration trips.
"The system is fatally flawed, and it needs to be abolished," said Mark Grisham, executive director of the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association, which represents the 16 firms that run Colorado River trips.

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