September 12, 2007
As part of GCPBA’s continuing contacts with Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) personnel, GCPBA Vice President Rich Phillips attended a series of meetings September 5-6 in Flagstaff and at Lees Ferry. These included meeting with GCNP River District Ranger Mike McGinnis, Planner/Wilderness Coordinator Linda Jalbert, River Office Manager Steve Sullivan, and Lees Ferry Rangers Dave Chapman and Paul Ehlert.
Lees Ferry Visit
The visit to Lees Ferry was made on September 5th, and involved spending time on the ramp, and at the old and new ranger “contact stations” with Rangers Chapman and Ehlert.
The CRMP is working fairly well from a ranger standpoint. Ranger workload has gone up somewhat with more check-ins of private parties. However, they believe that the shift in overall experience level of boaters now launching has not adversely impacted ramp activities or down-river experiences, as had been contemplated.
They did ask that GCPBA continue to emphasize the importance of trip leaders having all participants watch the orientation DVD prior to arrival at the Ferry. This DVD is provided with the information package that is sent to all trip leaders.
The proposed shade pavilion was not built this year, and GCPBA will continue to pursue this as a necessary improvement at the Ferry. The new “contact station” is located just in front of the old ranger trailer. It is a great improvement – with real air conditioning and a large room dedicated to orientations. The move to this location was taking place the week of this visit.
In the last meeting with GCPBA, Steve Sullivan described the options being presented to folks who had formerly been on the waiting list, would have scheduled by now, and had not taken a refund or participated on a trip. Steve’s comment was, “I want to be sure these folks don’t feel like they got left out in the cold.” Under this adaptive management initiative, approximately 95 people formerly on the waiting list – who would have expected to receive a 2009 launch -- will be given the opportunity in the upcoming months to pre-schedule or have their extra chances tripled. This initiative is further described on pages 16 - 18 of the permit system FAQs
(see NPS - Page Not Found
There are four methods currently used to notify folks. In addition to the current email system, the River Office encourages people to watch for cancellations on the web site at Grand Canyon National Park - Available Noncommercial River Launch Dates (U.S. National Park Service)
, there is a phone line information option (call 1-800-959-9164 (Option 4), and also the Park is testing the use of RSS feeds to facilitate notifications (information about RSS feeds is available on the cancellation page listed
Press releases seem initially to be an additional option for wider dissemination of lottery information. But it was agreed that few news organizations would carry that kind of highly specialized content. Steve asked for suggestions from GCPBA’s members on other methods of notification.
Steve noted that in September and October, he has scheduled two days with triple private launches. This was his preferred method of correcting an error made in his office (rather than canceling the trips scheduled by mistake). This will not be a regular feature of the launch program.
Steve’s office has moved to Flagstaff, although some other components of the River Office operation remain at the South Rim.
Cancellations don’t seem to be an issue of concern at present. Preliminary indications are that between March 1 and August 31, only three trips did not launch, and one of those was cancelled with only six days prior to the launch date. If these tentative figures (as last-minute no-shows at Lees Ferry have to be manually added to the system after the fact) this would be a slippage rate of about one percent – far better than under the old management plan. Call-ins are less likely to be used for cancellations in the future, with increased reliance on secondary lotteries.
Superintendent Martin recently approved an adaptive management change that will impact some cancellations. A recent lottery for 9 launches resulted in two that were almost immediately declined by the persons winning the date. To avoid some of the problems of holding yet another lottery, Steve has received permission to selectively go back to the lottery list in such a case, and offer the refused trip to the next person who would have been selected in the lottery. There are several conditions to this change. The trip refusal must have occurred within two weeks of the lottery. The trip itself must be within the next 6 weeks. And Steve will only go to the next five people in the lottery list seeking a new TL. But this should somewhat smooth the process of trying to fill a trip under such short timelines. He noted that some river programs enforce a penalty for such last-minute cancellations. However, they do not see a present need for it – one recent trip cancellation entailed the loss of a full $1,600, which is a significant penalty in itself.
A discussion of user-days disclosed that the Park is on target to closely approach projected CRMP user-day figures. For example, the predicted shoulder season user-day level was 47,000 user-days, and the actual (based on permit applications for future dates) use is projected to be about 52,000. Summer use was predicted in the CRMP as 32,500 user-days, and actual use was about 35,000. Should winter use approach its expected 34,000 user-days, total actual private boater use would actually modestly exceed the CRMP’s 115,000 user-day level for private launches.
Status of PATL
The PATL option continues to be under-utilized. There are no figures on how often it comes into play, since the computer automatically switches the permit to the PATL if a TL drops off a trip.
Steve urged that folks applying for permits strongly consider using it. At least one of the unfilled trip cancellations this year was evidently due to there being no PATL identified. There was a discussion of some of the reasons why applicants might not be using this option, and Steve and his staff are considering several options that might be implemented in the future to adjust how this option is used.
On-River Incidents and Issues
There has been a noticeable increase in reported on-river incidents from non-commercial trips. Incident reports from commercial trips about average for the year-to-date. The Park view at present is that this represents better reporting by trip leaders rather than any actual substantial increase in problems on the river. Mike McGinnis seconded the view of the Lees Ferry personnel that the one-trip rule has not seemed to have any significant impact on on-river incidents because of any actual or perceived reduction in experience level of boaters this year.
The subject of permits for private boater access to Hualapai lands was discussed. Mike advised that a new communication initiative with the Hualapai tribe is about to start.
Linda Jalbert advised that the campsite atlas project continues at a modest pace. At present, no target date for completion has been identified.
Lake Mead/South Cove Update
Mike advised that the Meadview SCAT machine location is due for renovation and upgrade this coming winter. A larger water tank and some shade structures are in the plan. He will work with officials there about reports of poor water pressure being an ongoing problem, which the new water tank may remedy.
He stated that for the foreseeable future, private boaters will continue to use the alternate ramp several hundred yards further downlake. Toilet facilities, grading, and other improvements here are modest, but from now on, river runners will not have to share the takeout with lake boaters – who will be confined to the original ramp area.
Visitor Experience Survey Monitoring Program
Linda explained that, while part of a much more elaborate study being commissioned by the Park, visitor experience survey monitoring activity was conducted at Deer Creek and Whitmore this summer. Plans to have data collected at Havasu were redirected to Whitmore due to hiker safety considerations during the heart of the monsoon patterns.
Preliminary results (both observational and via interview) suggest that while there are fluctuations in activity at sites such as Deer Creek, overall contact levels have been reduced from levels identified in pre-CRMP surveys. This would suggest that the new launch and related river traffic patterns are working as intended. Boaters with prior trip experience report reduced levels of contact with other parties.
Quagga Mussel Update
A very recent NPS study did not confirm the presence of Quagga mussels in Lake Powell, as earlier reported. However this is a continuing threat to the water of not only that impoundment, but the Grand Canyon as well. Boaters whose equipment has been in infested waters are advised to take appropriate cleansing steps before launching. No mandatory procedures are in place for private boaters, but commercial outfitters have stepped up their post-trip cleaning programs for trips that go all the way to South Cove.
As always, GCPBA appreciates the fine cooperation provided by Park personnel, and in particular thanks them for taking time from their busy schedules for these meetings.
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