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Here is the article from a public meeting about Ruby-Horsethief. Please note the contact info at the end of the article in which to send in your suggestions.

Crowded river concerns user
By AMY HAMILTON/The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Thursday, July 16, 2009
Years ago, boating the nearly 25 miles of the Colorado River from the Loma boat ramp to the Westwater Ranger Station in Utah was a quiet adventure.
Lately, during busy summer weekends, officials have counted as many as 450 people throughout a day using the stretch of river for rafting, fishing, hiking and camping, diluting what should be the pristine experience of floating through the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area.
Increased usage has led to increased problems. Approximately 40 people attended a meeting with the Bureau of Land Management in Grand Junction on Thursday to discuss what’s happening along that stretch of the river and how problems might be resolved. One solution may be to implement some kind of fee and permitting system, a common practice on other rivers.
Currently, boaters who put in at the Loma boat ramp are asked to sign up and list where they will be camping that night along the river. However, signing in is voluntary, and there are no fees associated with camping. Some boaters who have signed up for campsites have arrived to find them occupied by other boaters.
Also, while boaters are required to carry along and contain human waste in a portable toilet and to clean up dog mess and carry a fire pan, those rules increasingly are not being followed, according to outdoor recreation planner Matt McGrath of the BLM.
“We kind of look at this as the beginning of the process,” he said about Thursday’s meeting.
Many details about how the BLM should manage the area are up for consideration. A permitting system, especially on weekends, would ensure that only a certain number of boaters are camping in the area at a time.
A permit system raises questions for BLM officials. Could a system be expanded for spontaneous river use, a kind of use more common among local users? Should day users have to pay for using the river if they aren’t camping overnight? How much should the fees for permits be?
The area has been patrolled by BLM rangers, but they are not authorized to write tickets for misuse. This summer, one ranger greets boaters at the ramp to advise them of the rules. But because there are no teeth to the regulations, boaters could choose to disregard the suggestions.
Two law enforcement rangers will be at the river later this summer with authority to hand out citations.
“People know that we haven’t had a lot of enforcement out there,” McGrath said. “They’ll be more respectful if there’s a much higher probability of being cited for bad behavior.”
Karla VanderZanden, a commercial rafting guide with the Canyonlands Fields Institute based in Moab, regularly runs the river. She said she has long been in favor of a permitting system.
Showing up at the boat launch with a group of children and not knowing whether designated camp sites will be available is scary, VanderZanden said. She also is not in favor of having to share campsites with others when guiding groups.
Weekend use on that stretch of river is uncomfortable and unsafe because there are too many people, she said.
“As a private boater, permitting is commonplace,” she said. “There are very few places of quality experience that don’t.”
Suggestions can be submitted to Matt McGrath of the BLM at 2815 H Road, Grand Junction 81506, or by e-mail to [email protected]. Comments should be delivered by Sept. 30. Include name, street address, e-mail address and phone number.

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Typical guide/outfitter response: Give us the best slots, and the most user days, the rest of you can go to hell.

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3,974 Posts
Plans are for 2011


The following is from the UtahRafters Yahoo email group. there's a significant amount of discussion on the list, ranging from what this will do to the ability to float through Westwater to potential benefits of decreasing wear on RH campsites and wildfire risk. I put some of the correspondence below. You can log on over there and read all the posts about it which are from a lot of points of view, and generally represent long-time boaters familair with that reach.There are about another 15 posts or so on the topic other than what I've cut and pasted here - this should be plenty to get the juices flowing. Where I knew who these posters I made sure their name was there (in parentheses) as some on the Buzz may know them.

I'm not sure if the public comment period is still open. If you'd like to make your opinion known to the BLM, please do so in a civil manner.




The BLM is making plans to have the Ruby-Horsethief section of the Colorado become a permitted section beginning in 2011. They are in the formative stages of this plan so it is a good time to give input regarding these changes. Matt McGrath of the the BLM is spearheading this effort. You can contact him with input (he said he appreciates having written documentation so email/letters are best for record keeping) via [email protected] or calling him at 244-3029. Information will also be available as plans progress at Ruby Horsethief
I don't know what I think about this change - it will be helpful to help keep the river/camps cleaned up and prevent all those non-groover carrying yahoos from trashing the place. I'm concerned about the pressure it then puts on other local rivers that are currently open for use w/out permits.

I'm sure I will be in the minority, but I'm happy to see a permit system. If you're ever at Westwater on a nice Sunday afternoon I think you might agree. Some days there are literally a hundred boats attempting to take out at that little ramp. I suppose it depends on what kind of experience you want, but that's not what I'm looking for. The zoo is ridiculous.
Steve Christensen


Steve is quite right about the chaos at Westwater (particularly on Sunday afternoons) due to unrestricted Ruby-Horsethief boating. But BLM is likely considering other factors as well -- most of them under the jurisdiction of BLM Grand Junction.
Under the current system, there are major problems with improperly confined fires, non-use of groovers, campsite conflicts, and other forms of adverse resource impact. It's reached the point where it can't be ignored any longer.
I sincerely doubt the folks on this list are creating the above problems. But unless other boaters regulate their own behavior in a responsible way, in this day and age, the government steps in to impose regulations. And that's what's about to happen here.
Rich Phillips
I support the permit whole-heartedly. I thoroughly enjoyed my first trip down that stretch this summer but was shocked by both the impact and the behavior of some of the boaters. It was odd to have a camp that was so beautiful and 50 feet away see the signs of poorly buried human waste and toilet paper.
Can't imagine that take-out beach being much fun at prime-time either. We hit it late in the day and only shared it with one person rigging for the next day.
Seems the best option for both resource protection and visitor experience.
I'm with you on this. I quit running Ruby Horsethief many years ago because it had became a zoo. A friend had never done it and wanted to run it a few years back prior to a Sunday WW trip. It was mid Oct, so I figured it would be OK.
She was very disappointed with the crowding and was so distracted by it that she failed to see real beauty of that canyon.
Hi Rich and Steve, The following is offered in a spirit of camaraderie and open discussion...
I've been thinking about this for a while. Is there a direct correlation between the implementation of a permit system and protection of the river resource?
Think about it this way: if the BLM built a take-out ramp at Westwater, say 100 yards upstream of the present ramp, the already tiny put-in ramp would still be tiny for put-ins only, but there would no longer be conflicts in two way traffic, just one way.
On the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, a highly restricted and permitted river, we have problems with improperly confined fires, non-use of groovers, campsite conflicts and other adverse resource impacts such as crowding at attraction sites, and conflicts over permit allocations.
Shouldn't we be encouraging the BLM to educate river runners about resource stewardship instead of encouraging the implementation of yet more burdensome regulations that may favor one boating use group over another (commercial and self guided)?
Thoughts? Best to you both, Tom (Martin)
I like to think that we have a higher quality group of people floating the Grand because of the permit system. People who are willing to wait out a permit system, or (lately) apply for a lottery. I don't think the jerks we're talking about are going to do these things. A permit system cannot ensure that we don't have jerks at all down there, but there are probably about a hundredth as many of 'em.
The people who throw trash all over the beach and worse are not educable.
Tom (Rampton)
Though I'm a new-comer to river running specifically, I'm not so regarding conservation issues, ecology and user-group needs and conflicts... I would like to offer the idea that the responsibility of resource use and impacts lies primarily on the user – Not the BLM, NPS, USFS, NMFS or USGS. The user should be the first line of defense in terms of self-education and conservation regarding the issues with resources at hand - the resources used by the user.

Regarding the current topic, here are the rules as posted at the Loma boat ramp on October 10th 2009:

Western River Trekker • View topic - River Ethics

Generally speaking, the standard now is that the user group (hunters, mountain bikers, fishers, ORV users, oil extractors, off-leash dog owners etc.) rely, or even demand, that the administrator of the land show/prove negative impacts of the user groups activities (“Show me the science!” they scream, and then they sometimes dismiss it as biased). It really should be the other way around - the user-group should first prove through peer-reviewed science that a given activity at a given location at a given level has no or minimal or such-and-such impact on the ‘resource’ and given that information their representative group (E.g., the International Mountain Bicycling Association ) should adopt certain methods of expected behavior for its members in order to protect the resource they are consuming, even if that means no access or limited, permitted access (At the top of the food/recreation chain, we are all consumers).

I think, generally speaking, a permit system is the best route because it should cause a reaction in the permittees (the ‘ed·u·ca·ble’) – a reaction that should cause them to question the ecological need for the permit in the first place and then inspire them to do further research and behavior modification toward protecting said resource. The user group’s official association (if there is one) should also take steps to educate its members, or even its potential members, about the issues and solutions (though there is a problem with this idea for all the Thoreau-types who would quote “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member” … So I shall shit were I please…)

Just my off-the-cuff three cents - I’m happy to consider other viewpoints or flaws in my strained logic …

In the mean time, lovin’ the river,


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3,974 Posts

There has been plans in the works for several years for a R-H ramp up stream from the put in. I heard more talk about a location this spring. It will most likely happen at some point.

They have a very different situation in R-H than in many other places on the Colorado River. R-H can be run in almost anything that floats. and at all hours of the day. I have seen groups launching after dark in pool toys. (No ranger)

When I did R-H a few years ago, the water was very low and we were running WW the next day, and I knew it would be a zoo at the put in on a Sat morning, so we were at the Loma boat ramp at about 6:30 AM. There were a few other people moving around but not much happening. We got back from our shuttle about 9 AM and it was an obstacle course getting back down to the river. We guessed approx 200 people. I forgot to sign up for a camp before the shuttle and all were signed for when I got back. We were way out in front of the larger group launching that day, and rarely were we in a location where we could not see other people. As we moved down river, we noticed ALL campsites were full. Very full, with a couple of hundred more people headed down behind us.
In my opinion, the resource will not be protected with that many people just trying to get out of town to party for a couple of days. Another point. This was in mid Oct, after the main season. On my way to WW in July & Aug, I pass the Loam boat ramp at about 6:30 AM and sometimes it is already full. There is no overnight camping there, so these are all people getting ready to launch.
The key points for me is limit the number of people and the number of nights people are allowed to camp.
Gary (Scovill)
Hi TomM,
Gary has hit most of the high points, but let me add that the problem here is not one of allocation between commercial and private boaters. There are some commercial outfitters licensed for that stretch. But the number of such trips is miniscule compared to the volume of families, scouts, affiliated groups and individuals who simple decide, "Hey, let's go do R-H tomorrow. I'll bring the canoe and you bring the beer. That's all we really need."
Many of the folks we see (Steve and I have been volunteer rangers there for years) taking out at WW are simply not attuned to the wilderness ethic. As I said in my first response on this issue, I don't think the folks on this list are any part of the problem. It's an entirely different demographic from the folks we launch going downstream. And many of the people doing R-H have an entirely different mindset towards things that you and I take for granted in river travel.
Yes, a BLM educational effort might be of some use. But without an enforcement mechanism and a ranger presence at Loma (although there are other put-in options to think about as well), the overall impact would still be negative. Consider that no more than 150 people per day can go through WW (combined commercial and private), but that on some weekend days there may be 2-3 times that many doing R-H.
I've been in on a couple of the meetings between BLM Grand Junction and BLM Moab personnel on this issue -- going back three years or so. No-one involved was motivated to institute a permit system for any reason other than to protect the resource. And no viable alternative other than a permit system was ever developed.
Rich Phillips
Personally I think if ever a permit system were needed, Ruby-Horsetheif is the place. Let's hope they make a system similar to WW or Deso where river rats like us know how to get a permit. Additionally though, BLM is going to need to staff Loma with a ranger to enforce permitted for at least a year or two until the bozos stop showing up with a canoe and a couple cases of beer on the whim of the moment. Normally I don't like permit systems, but here is a clear cut case that the average user of the resource is an idiot and a permit system is the only way to keep those folks off the river. Education is a great idea, but will take a lot of expense and effort AND enforcement to stick and unfortunately will be far more expensive than just barring the whim-of-the-moment folks from the river. I haven't been down RH in many years precisely because of the hordes and the little turd blossoms at all the campsites.​

Warren (Musselman)​
Tom, I believe there is a direct correlation between the implementation of a permit system and protection of the river resource. Absolutely.

I think you are confusing two very seperate issues. A permitting system, per se, has nothing to do with allocation discrepancies. Many rivers have worked out a very fair system between privates and commercials, with the GC being the one obvious exception.

I am an educator, and believe in education at all levels. However, any and all possible education would, in my opinion, do little to help the issues we see at R-H and for that mattter, at Westwater as well. It goes way beyond limiting usage.


I don't think that goes too far beyond reality. If there weren't rangers at Westwater forcing compliance (and I would consider that to be education that has been going on for a very long time) I can't imagine what would go on there. To be honest, it makes me embarassed to be part of the culture. In lots of groups it is way more about the party than it is about the river.

I find that very sad. If what you say is going on in the GC, I find that even more sad.

So it goes . . .

(Steve Christensen)

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Hi all, lots of good food for thought here.
The BLM has some pages on the R-H section of river:
As far as I can tell (please help me out here), with a railroad along the river, this is not a wilderness river experience. Is that right? I didn't get a wilderness river feeling on my last R-H trip, and didn't think I should expect one. The boat ramp sign even says that. We shouldn't expect paddlers to embrace a wilderness river ethic where there is none required nor intended.
That said, the question arises, at what level of use are just too many people on the river, and what should be done about that.
Permitting a river has the benefit of creating a use ceiling. Only a certain number of river parties may launch in any given day.
We should keep in mind that Permit systems can be burdensome, or not.
It also gives the agency a way to collect fees from folks who want to boat.
What sort of fee structure will be in place?
Also, is a permit needed every day of the year? Weekends only? Seasonally?
One downside is fighting over allocations once a permit ceiling is set. We don't know that the guiding groups who operate there won't want a significant piece of the permitted pie.
Another downside is folks can still jump camps, crowd locations of interest, and trash places.
Greg has a good point that organizations of river runners have a duty to educate their members about resource protection.
Another thing to consider. If a permit is put in place in R-H, where will folks go if they don't get a permit? Will folks drive a little farther and put in at the WW take-out and go to the Dewey Bridge area or on down through the Moab Daily stretch.
I sure don't have the answers, but we need to look at a lot of issues here, and make sure that we are not jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Yours, tom
Tom Martin
Fellow boaters,
I must confess that I am stunned to see such support for a permit system and restriction of use on a Colorado river (not the Colorado…).
While I can certainly appreciate the frustration of encountering idiots, regulation will not eliminate this problem, whether on the highway, the river, or for that matter, walking down the street. Idiots will always be idiots and there seem to be more and more of them every year, everywhere I go…
Frankly, the absolute worst experiences that I have ever had at put ins or takeouts, on any river, have been at Westwater. I can’t think of another bad takeout experience that comes close to a dozen or so Westy takeouts that were full of drunks, or folks who just don’t get it and might have been sober, just not aware of the fact that somebody else might need to use the ramp. The permit system hasn’t prevented this takeout from being an absolute disaster on countless occasions. Furthermore, the worst experiences I’ve had at a put in have been at Westwater. These negative experiences have involved outfitters who are supposedly the “stewards” of the resource as often as “idiots” or stupid and selfish people.
By restricting access to RH you may end up with a kid who instead of getting his first river experience, stays home on the Nintendo and never gets to hear his dad explain takeout etiquette and how to be a responsible, accountable and professional river rat.
My first river experiences were in K-mart rafts without life preservers. Was that wrong? I think not.
I caution everyone to consider how slippery a slope this really is-what is next after a permit at RH? I suppose some boy/girl scout won’t get their favorite camp on Slickrock or will encounter some college punks at the takeout and insist that the Dolores gets permitted. Ever been to the Arkansas on a Saturday? Oh surely we must restrict access as there are folks who are in the way, out of their minds or just plain stupid. How about the Animas-boy the 32 St. bridge sure can be ugly at times, better permit so we keep down the riff raff. And on and on it goes until running rivers becomes a once a year hope or dream that the “weekend warriors” who only boat 6 times a year anyway but have “been boating since the 70’s…” are more than content and the rest of us who live for the river have to cross our fingers that we get lucky enough to draw this year. What a tragedy.
The net result is that the bureaucrats will have to “destroy it (access) in order to save it (river of your choice)”…
I’d consider this one carefully and remember the law of unintended consequences-be careful what you wish for…
Werner Catsman

do you have any info on the BLM in Colorado coordinating or at least talking to the BLM at Westwater about the upcoming system? I would hope that they will be able to work together, or possibly integrate the two permitting systems through the same office. I know that sounds too efficient and convienient for everyone involved. But is it possible?
I would hope that proper signage, and a ranger presence (regular or volunteer)at the put in on heavy launch days would be sufficient to keep things working.
That, and the WW rangers writing tickets at the takeout to the poachers.
Erik J. Miller
Before labor day this year I had only run RH from November through February. I had never seen another person out there surprisingly enough. ;-) but over labor day there were about 150 people according to the WW ranger. Most were family groups with small children, and all seemed respectful. I don't know if they had groovers but there wasn't any loud music or obvious drunkenness. I support a permit system to pay a ranger to staff the Loma putin but I hope they take a couple things into consideration. Since RH is a longer, easier stretch, it can handle more users per day than westwater, and it doesn't need a permit in the winter time. Fwiw, Kjirsten (TMTR)
Sorry for the double post on the same subject, but we were posting at the same time.
Werner, I am usually the last to support another permit system on a river here in the Southwest, or anywhere for that matter. But the fact of the matter is that the overuse and abuse necessitates it for both resource protection and for quality of the river experience for everyone.
I don't agree with some of the parallels you try to draw. The Arkansas for the most part is not an overnight river experience, nor is the Animas. They may have crowding at access points, but that is not one of the major motivating factors for a permit system at R-H.
I have also had issues at WW, mostly at the takeout. Can you imagine if there were 300-400 people a day on WW instead of the permitted 150? Or worse, 5 groups trying to pile into your peaceful camp at dark because all others were taken? Setting your tent up in a human cat-box?
I loathe having to pay for another permit fee on a river, and the hassles that are associated with it. But I do understand it when it keeps the user group in sync with the available resource.
I too started rafting in a k-mart raft and innertube, but I wouldn't take someone down R-H on an overnight trip in that manner.
Erik J. Miller

47 Posts
A weekend permit system may be the way to go on RH. A nomimal charge of $1 per person would be enough to pay a ranger to check for toilet systems and assign campsites at the put in.
Years ago, when I first ran Lodore and Middle Fork, they had pit toilets at the campsites. This is not appropriate for wilderness rivers these days, but may be appropriate for a "semi- wilderness" trip such as RH. It doesn't get much worse than sleeping under the stars at night only to realize the next morning that used toilet paper has been blown up against your sleeping bag overnight.
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