Press Release: Park Service Plan for Colorado River Leaves Wilderness High and Dry
Solitude, Special Attributes of Wild River Abandoned in Favor of Crowd Pleasing Motorized Rides
November 10, 2005
Phoenix—Awaiting the much-anticipated Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) from the National Park Service that will guide management of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park for the next 15 to 20 years, conservationists today denounced the park’s preferred Alternative H as woefully inadequate for protecting the river’s unique wilderness qualities, delicate riparian ecosystems, and opportunity for natural quiet and solitude.
“This final EIS is a slap in the face to the millions of people who cherish the Grand Canyon’s wild Colorado River,” says Kim Crumbo, Grand Canyon Regional Director for the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, former wilderness coordinator at Grand Canyon National Park, and a veteran river runner with over 35 years experience on the Colorado. “Why should visitors bother escaping downtown Phoenix or New York City when they can find the din of motors and throngs of people right there in the heart of this wild canyon?”
The FEIS continues the excessive number of trips and large groups launched per day to accommodate increased demand for river rafting trips. It also increases the use of powerboats, and continues the practice of flying passengers by helicopter to and from river trips at the bottom of the Canyon. These activities are directly in conflict with Park Service policy and the intent of the Wilderness Act. Contrary to recreationist’s stated preference for encounters with other groups to be fewer than three per day along the river, the Park Service points out in the FEIS that visitors can “tolerate” higher levels.
“The Park Service should manage for a high-quality wilderness experience, not push the numbers has high as visitors can stand,” says Crumbo. “Their priorities are clearly not with visitors, but with the handful of motorized concessioners who profit from the river.”
AWC is part of the Grand Canyon Wilderness Alliance, made up of more than a dozen conservation and river-running groups representing more than 1 million people. The Alliance has been working collaboratively for three years on a solution for balancing visitor access to the river with the important obligation the park has to protect the exceptional wilderness attributes the canyon offers. These attributes include natural quiet and the absence of crowds on the river. The Arizona Wilderness Coalition introduced a resolution to the river problem formally to the Park Service in 2003, before the agency even released its draft environmental impact statement for the Colorado River Management Plan.
“The Grand Canyon and the river that carved it are two of the greatest wild marvels on our planet,” says Don Hoffman, Executive Director of the statewide AWC. “They deserve to be honored with the highest level of protection available from Congress, but instead, the Park Service has decided to cater to special interest motorized groups and allow that rare wild experience to simply vanish.”
In its formal comments to the park, the Alliance recommended the phase out the use of powerboats on the river over several years. Powerboats seriously impact the wilderness experience and Park Service policy requires the agency to remove this “non-conforming” use. Non-motorized craft (oar-powered craft, dories, and paddleboats) easily provide a safe, enjoyable wilderness experience for all river runners.
Conservationists also proposed to reduce group size to less than 20 people, a level consistent with a wilderness experience and preferred by most river runners. This is important because larger groups need more space for activities. When large groups camp at ever-diminishing beaches, they are forced to spread out into environmentally sensitive areas.
Motorboats will have to be phased out before full wilderness designation from Congress can be granted. The Park Service recommended that the river be designated as official wilderness—and thus enjoy the highest levels of protection for its resources—25 years ago, yet motor engines are the reason that a wilderness designation for the river has yet to be formalized.
The Final Environmental Impact Statement is available at: http://www.nps.gov/grca/crmp/index.htm