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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
FYI, We thought a little historical review would be in order. Come March 1, all of the DIY 2016 river trips will be booked. Yours, tom

https://rrfw.org/riverwire/60-years-river-permitting-grand-canyon-national-park

RRFW Riverwire 60 Years of River Permitting at Grand Canyon National Park
January 26, 2015

In the 60th year of permitting river trips in Grand Canyon, the National Park Service will open the main 2016 river season lottery for self-guided river trips through Grand Canyon on February 1, 2015. The lottery will remain open for most of the month of February.

In 2014, there were over 4,200 do-it-yourself applications for the 460 Grand Canyon river trip opportunities throughout the entire year of 2015. While 9 dates in December and January had no applicants in the initial lottery, these dates were awarded in follow-up lotteries. The most sought after launch date continues to be just after September 15, the last day of the year concessions companies launch motorized tour boats. There were 359 applications for the first trip launching after September 15, 2015.

While thousands of do-it-yourself river runners vie for a handful of coveted permits in today’s lotteries, the first permit program to regulate float trips through Grand Canyon was initiated in 1955. At that time, less than three hundred people had made the trip from Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, to Pearce Ferry at the headwaters of Lake Mead.

In 1955, there were four do-it-yourself trips through Grand Canyon, and three commercial trips. It was the last time summer do-it-yourself trips would outnumber commercial trips on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon.

With very few exceptions, from 1955 to 1979, permits to raft the Colorado River in the Park were only awarded to river runners who had already made the journey. Commercial river running trips greatly increased during this period. Do-it-yourself river runners with no prior Grand Canyon experience were turned away and encouraged to use a commercial river company to access the river.

Under the 1955 restriction, while do-it-yourself demand increased, very few permits for do-it-yourself launches were issued. By 1973, the National Park Service had identified 22 river concessionaires to lead commercial river trips in Grand Canyon. At that time, the concessionaires had no limit to the number of river trips they could launch per day.

In 1979, 43 do-it-yourself trips were allowed to launch while the river concessionaires launched 497 summer trips.

A very contentious river management plan in 1979 was overturned in 1980 when the river concessionaires used congressional pressure to override the 1979 public comment generated river plan. The 1979 plan called for wilderness protection of the Colorado River, eliminating motorized tour boat use and increasing the number of both concessions and do-it-yourself river trips. The 1980 political end run allowed the river concessions to keep the increase in river use and their motorized tour boats.

The 1981 river management numbers increased the number of year round do-it-yourself river trips to 222. By 2000, the do-it-yourself trips totaled 253, 129 of which were in the summer. This was in comparison to the concessions trips which had increased to 640 in 2000, 534 of which were in the summer.

Today, do-it-yourself lottery applicants vie for 185 summer launches while the river concessions launch 476 trips in the same time period.

River Runners for Wilderness continues to offer an online guide to navigating the complex 2015 Grand lottery at: https://www.rrfw.org/lotteryguide

The lottery is strictly online based. The National Park Service (NPS) will not allow applications via fax, mail or phone. Winners are notified solely through email.

Applications for the 2016 river lottery will be accepted on the Grand Canyon National Park’s lottery website at beginning February 1, 2015, at https://npspermits.us/grandcanyon/river/login.cfm

Lottery applicants must first establish a profile by visiting https://npspermits.us. During the application process river runners must update their last river trip information, as the Park does not supply this data and will collect $400 if the lottery applicant wins the lottery without updating this information. In addition, all fees will be forfeited and the permit will be revoked.

Unlike lotteries that award participants extra points for participating in the lottery and losing, this lottery gives up to five additional points to do-it-yourself river running applicants for every year the river runner has stayed away from participation in any self- guided or concession river trip in Grand Canyon. River runners who purchase yearly access to the river through the authorized river concessionaires face no parallel obstacles and are free to purchase a trip year after year.

All self-guided river runners are required to show photo identification to National Park Service Law Enforcement Rangers at the start of their river trip. No such enforcement is required for concessions passengers. River Runners for Wilderness continues to hear anecdotal reports of passengers who participate on two or more concessions river trips per year.

The Park Service charges a non-refundable $25 application fee to be able to play the lottery. This is the highest lottery fee of any federal land river application lottery in the country. Last year’s main February lottery alone generated $105,300.

Unlike other river lotteries, Grand Canyon’s lottery requires a substantial up-front financial commitment for winners, and possible forfeiture of those funds. Winners will have to pay a $400 trip deposit for the standard sized trip of 16 people maximum, and $200 for the small trip of 8 people maximum. This deposit goes toward the $100 per person river running fee.

The Park also encourages applicants to list at least one Potential Alternate Trip Leader (PATL) on their lottery application. This is important because PATLs cannot be added after a trip date has been awarded. The number of chances an application has with a PATL listed is determined by the most recent trip of all the application’s listed members. RRFW would like to remind applicants to carefully select a PATL that will likely be able to go if the permittee cannot, to avoid fee forfeiture and disappointed participants.

By the lottery rules, listing at least one PATL on an application is the only way the permit holder can protect trip participants against a cancelled trip if for some reason the permit holder is unable to make the trip. To this date, the NPS notes 20% of do-it-yourself trips list PATL’s but the NPS has provided no data to show how often a trip is turned over to a PATL.

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Data on Kayak Self Support Private Trips

Tom,

Once again my self and the community owe you thanks for compiling this historical data. It is beautiful.

My last trip was a six day kayak self support and I could not help but postulate at how many people a year complete the trip in this fashion and how that number has / is changing overtime. I called the river office and they were hesitant to looking up that information specifically.

My guess's is as follows. 27,000 people a year run the canyon. One hundredths (.01) of that is 270 and I suspect that number might still be high.

How many folks a year do you think make the trip kayak self support?

The other thing I would like to point out for discussion sake is that the six day kayak self support really makes the canyon a 9 day vacation with drive time for many people in the Western US. That is much more manageable than the average 16-25 day trips that are the norm for private river runners. For me its much easer to take that week off each year than it is to get three.

Given that population of the Western US is around 80,000,000 I am baffled by how few people kayak self support the Grand Canyon each year. Perhaps its just not on their radar due to the lack of buzz in the community for these types of trips.

The last thing I will note is how empty the canyon was on my last kayak self support (Jan 2015). On a six day trip we pass several groups a day. But on this trip we passed very few groups overall. Maybe ten in total two of which were solo trips. I think we only saw three full (16 person) trips one of which was a motor science trip. Of the groups we did see 6/10 were bunched up at Havasue and Deer Creek. I got the feeling that the canyon could accommodate allot more use in the winter season given the small trip sizes of most groups.

I think access could be increased and environmental access equalized if the park allowed two private launches of 8 people per day during the winter season and allowed river runners to have more than one trip during the winter season.

Thanks again for the parent post.
 

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Buckman, I agree that kayak self support trips are not on most people's radar. (Kinda selfishly hope it stays that way for a while) I did a six day last winter and had a similar experience encountering very few trips. My guess is kayakers are starting to figure out that you have a good chance of getting on every year if you're willing to play the follow up lottery and go in the winter.

The Alt-trip leader system is completely useless to me, and I assume most people. As an Alt-TL you are not allowed to play the lottery yourself! I don't know about you all, but of all the people I'd want to list as an Alt-TL they play the lottery too. Who am I going to ask to NOT play the lottery in the off chance I win, just to have a legal Alt-TL? It would make so much more sense to list who ever you want after you win (other winners excluded).

Tom, thanks for the history lessons...
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Hey Buck, Thanks for your post.

Like you, I am seeing a small increase in fast kayak trips through Grand Canyon. You make a good case for this type of trip for those with the skills and who find themselves short on time.

Yes, it would be interesting to see that use figure on how many folks make a self-support kayak trip. Your thought that 1% of 27,000 sounds high is a good observation, given that of the 27,000 folks you mention, 7,051 will be Do-It-Yourself folks (cite 2006 ROD p. 3). Of the 7,050, would you think 135 do the self-support kayak trip? That may be a tad too low… but not far off.

There may be a reason why so few folks do that type of trip, and it’s not so baffling… The Grand Canyon has a number of things to teach us as a society. One is about time. Taking time. Lots of it. 30 days to Pearce is mighty fast, if you are used to a 30 day to Diamond trip. Why race through Paradise. Yes, it can be done, but again, a majority of self-guided folks want longer trips, not shorter trips (cite Shelby, 1998 Colorado River Boating Study, p. 65)

It was so good to hear how few folks you saw in the Canyon in January. Pre-2006, in January we might see one other trip in the month. The NPS has worked hard to try to preserve that type of experience, seeing few folks in the Canyon. It’s what wilderness is all about. It’s why there are use restrictions in the backcountry as well, both on group size and number of groups in each use area. Yes, the NPS “could” increase winter use again for the do-it-yourself folks instead of taking the hard look at the summertime access inequity.

But you made an interesting choice of words when you said “I think access could be increased and environmental access equalized if the park allowed two private launches of 8 people per day during the winter season and allowed river runners to have more than one trip during the winter season.” Removing the one trip a year rule, even in the winter, would make sure all the winter trips are used up. But recent increased self-support kayak trip demand may have just “taken care of that.” Doubling the launches and halving the group size would double the trip contacts. There are folks today that are very concerned that the 2006 river management plan, by increasing do-it-yourself use greatly in the off season, has begun to impair the resource. Meaning, there are already too many folks down there.

All the best, tom
 

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Given that population of the Western US is around 80,000,000 I am baffled by how few people kayak self support the Grand Canyon each year. Perhaps its just not on their radar due to the lack of buzz in the community for these types of trips.
Thats because in your average January, all 80,000,000 of those westerners are stuck in traffic on I-70 trying to ski Breckenridge on the NFL playoff bye weekend, because that is sooo much cooler than a winter Grand trip. Then all 80,000,000 apply for the same September 16th launch in the Grand lottery because that day is sooo much better than the other 364 days of the year. And they gripe endlessly about why they never win!

But there are a few of us who have figured out life is better when you don't follow the crowd ;)
 

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Let's say several members of a group apply for a permit. In the very unlikely event that more than one of them win, could one winner cancel their trip and then go on the other winner's trip? Does winning a permit preclude you from cancelling your trip and going on another person's permit?
 

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Let's say several members of a group apply for a permit. In the very unlikely event that more than one of them win, could one winner cancel their trip and then go on the other winner's trip? Does winning a permit preclude you from cancelling your trip and going on another person's permit?
Exactly this happened with my group last year - we ended up with a 3/21/15 launch that will be used and cancelled the 3/16/15 launch that another guy won.
By mutual agreement as TL, I was treating the trip as having two PHs.

Unfortunately I ripped my shoulder apart while bodysurfing in Tel Aviv last September and cannot make the trip (this was the third RC repair surgery for that shoulder).
Looking forward to getting a 2016 date now.
 

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Tom;
I'd like to add my thanks for the information you have provided here.

Just some observations about the permit process;

1) From my limited observations in recent years, there are three kinds of Canyon trippers;
a) The ladies in tennis shoes types, who pay an outfitter to go; typically they go once and never return. Exceptions are noted, but I think they are the rare occurrence.
b) The private individuals who patiently play the lottery game until they get a permit or find a group they can join.
c) The "professional privateer" these are the hard core runners who go every year if they can get on a trip.

I'ts pretty clear to me that the private groups who wait for their permits are the ones most effected by the current system. I waited 3 years for my permit under the old waiting list process; I can't imagine waiting 10 years.

The commercial one timers pay their money, see the canyon, and have good memories, but again, most do not return and are not an issue for the permit process.

And finally, the professional privateers who seem to manage to find a trip just about every year. On the one hand, congrats to them for the dedication and sacrifice that lets them really explore the canyon. On the other hand, perhaps they should "tone it down" a bit and make room for others who haven't yet had the experience.

From a practical standpoint it would be hard to avoid violence at park headquarters if additional regulations were proposed on multiple trip users, so I'm not sure what the answer is.

It's Clear to me though that those who have never been and want to go should have some kind of preference over the ones who have made a career out of getting into the canyon every year.

And for what its worth, I wonder if the outfitters fill every spot every year, or if there isn't some way to trim some of their capacity to open up more private trips.

Just some thoughts.
 

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Exactly this happened with my group last year - we ended up with a 3/21/15 launch that will be used and cancelled the 3/16/15 launch that another guy won.
By mutual agreement as TL, I was treating the trip as having two PHs.
So the other guy who won the 3/16 launch was allowed to to on the 3/21 trip?
 

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You should never feel bad about getting to do a stretch of river more than other people. Survival of the fittest. Rape, pillage, and plunder what ever it takes.
 

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More to the story

Tom,

Thanks for compiling the history you’ve posted above. However, your history ends with a jump from what the situation was in 2000 to only a mention of the current summer launch disparity. By doing so, you omit some important things folks interested in Grand Canyon permitting should know about that are very relevant to your topic.

You left out the part about the current 2006 management plan. Under the current plan the private boaters' user day allotment was basically doubled from about 58,000 to about 113,400, and private trip launches were increased from about 250 to about 500 trips yearly. In addition, you also omitted the part where the outfitters gave up about 50 summer trips per year, had their trip sizes reduced, had their user days capped, lost most of October, all of March, some of April and also that there is now a no-motors season that extends from September 15 until April 15.

Lots more people have been getting down the river in the last decade, and the 2006 management plan is the reason. Of course there are things we’d all like to change with the current compromise plan and that we wish had turned out differently. But if you’re going to go around touting a “history of GC permitting” you should at least bring people up to date with what’s happened over the last couple of decades.

Apologies for not getting these details out sooner to help complete the history,

-AH
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
It's a 60 year review, not a 2006 reviw

Hi Andy, thanks for your post,

As most folks on this list are aware of what happened in 2006, the intent of the Riverwire was to help river runners understand how this all started, and that it started 60 years ago. I can only assume you knew that but were just too polite to tell anyone…

Whatever I “left out” there is no doubt about this:

Andy, you can charter a complete commercial trip for next year, while there are NO available DIY trips you are certain to get for 2016. They are all booked, and if they were not, you would get into a lottery with others for the chance to get that trip. You recall that over 4,000 folks applied for the 2016 lottery for over 400 permits.

Thousands and thousands of folks have played and lost every year since 2006, while they could book a commercial trip every year. Please keep in mind as well, that pre-2006, if you got on the waiting list you were at least assured a trip if you lived long enough or were flexible to call in for a cancellation.

The ones that really stab my heart are the posts I see where folks say they have given up with Grand Canyon, having lost the lottery every year since 2006.

I agree with you waiting 20 years to go boating is not a management plan we should applaud, but neither is the one we have today where you have no guarantee of ever getting a permit.

That said, I agree with you that “more people have been getting down the river” since 2007, and I agree with you that the 2006 management plan is the reason.

The 2006 plan forced more use on the resource, mostly in the off season. It did not address the imbalance in seasonal access, or the imbalance in overall access, or the lack of wilderness protection for the river.

Also, I wholeheartedly agree with you that “there are things we’d all like to change with the current compromise plan and that we wish had turned out differently.”

In order to understand what we need to change, we need to understand the history behind how we got in the mess we are in.

Yours, tom
 

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The GC was not on my radar for a long time due to personal restraints so I didn't follow the situation closely before 2012. Thanks to Andy for filling in the gap.
 

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More on GC post 2006

Andy thanks for the contemporary 2006-present update. All good information for the grand canyon community to learn from.

I would also add two things past and future:

1. While commercial trips were reduced slightly 50 trips per year. New outfitting business were created and existing ones grew as a result of the increase in private boater raft outfitted trips. Ciba, would not exist in it current model, REO, Pro River ect, all would be operating on a smaller scale. In short, in the post 2006 erra created new outfitting business.

2. The dominant social paradigm in all of the management history is that the river is best experienced on a raft over a 10 - 35 day time span. With a change in that management criteria both peoples experiences, could be maintained and human impact continue at a stable state.

My vision is the park offers small craft, small group (5 people max), short length (10 days) style trips. For the folks who desire to take their pack raft, or kayak down the river in a backpacker style outfit, such a permit would be optimal. Additionally, it would reduce the loss of user days when the style trip as cited above is done with a traditional permit. Each time that occurs, user days are not maximized and the original vision of the 2006 restructure is undermined.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Hi Buckman, just an FYI, the 2006 Colorado River Management Plan moved away from used days to trip launches. The pre-2006 plan used user days and added more trips if the user days were not used up. The 2006 plan does not care that the NPS identified user days for do-it-yourself boaters has not been met by 50%, as the plan is launch based. Here are some stats to show the 50% use. Yours, tom
http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/River_Stats_Oct_2014_Update.pdf
 

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Everything I see shows user days up from 2006. Steady in the summer, up in the shoulder and way way up in the winter. The system is reasonably transparent and users desperate to get on the river stand a very good chance if they are willing to go in the winter. The lottery seems to be well run and follow up lotteries are getting people out there.

My only trip was last year and I didn't feel the commercial motor rigs made much of an impact on my trip. Some minor annoyance here and there but nothing memorable. For the overwhelmingly vast majority of americans a motor commecial trip is the only viable option. I suspect these patrons come away with a better respect for the canyon, the environment and water in general. This can't be a bad thing.

I think the NPS is doing a decent job balancing the wilderness experience with the right to public access.

That being said I respect the people out there advocating for private boaters and making sure the transparency remains high. Thanks to all the folks that have kept access open to private boaters without completely overwhelming the canyon.
 
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