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  For What It's Worth
  BQR ~ fall 1998

he Colorado River in Grand Canyon has been the single most formative influence on my adult life. When down there, I am at peace because I am home. When up above, my waking hours are occupied with various productive activities but my thoughts are often on the water. When up above, my sleeping hours are filled with varied dreams, often with a common thread: in a boat, on a river, through a narrow, high-walled canyon. After a long trip or a series of back to backs, upon returning to the "real world," I experience a dull depression which at times borders on despair. Luckily, I share this existence with a group of likeminded individuals who are the Grand Canyon River Guides.

   We, as guides, share a unique perspective. One which no other group with a stake in the future of the River can know. While scientists sample precisely and discreetly at intervals, guides live the River with a quality and clarity unmatched. This is our value and why our input is crucial to any policy which affects the future of the river corridor in Grand Canyon. While bureaucrats and scientists come and go, the guides who take them through remain, rowing and motoring the boats through the place we cherish.

   This is a divisive time. Many changes are proposed. Some are new while much is merely old wine in new bottles. The guides are stuck in the middle. While we crave to run our trips and be left alone, the time has come for us to take stands on tough issues.

   The reason why the current management issues are tough is because they aren't black and white. No good guys and bad guys. This is exactly why, given the current emotion-filled environment, reasoned discussion and deliberation is crucial.

   There is a rush to change the way business is done in Grand Canyon. There is a backlash to retain the status quo. Change is going to happen. Times have changed: for the better and worse. Where does GCRG stand?

   I focus on a perspective: the quality of the River experience has improved during my time down there and guides with more experience tend to agree. The corridor is cleaner; the quality of both commercial and private trips has improved in terms of equipment, safety, guide professionalism, and experience. Yet, there is a fear that the whole thing is going to Hell in a hand basket.

   I focus on a perspective: The crowding and number of contacts has not changed over time. The places where and time of day when I expect to run into other trips are the same as they were 16 years ago. And the same boats and the same boatmen are still there. The main difference is that we talk more and are more sophisticated at working out alternatives for visitation and camps.

   I focus on a perspective: the greatest impact on the visitor experience on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon is not the number of contacts or motors or planes droning overhead. It is the operation of Glen Canyon Dam. Period.

   Many of us in the boating community have identified particular problems which exist on the River. Many of us feel that particular solutions applied to particular situations may be the best way of dealing with these problems. A blanket designation of wilderness or proposed wilderness or sometimes wilderness may not be the best thing for the management of the river corridor in Grand Canyon. This seems particularly true when the common perception is that the present proposals are a backdoor attempt to ban motors.

   GCRG has, in the past, presented reasonable solutions to on-river problems such as contacts and crowding. Guides can do much. We can run smarter and avoid the congestion through communication and planning where we will be when. Outfitters can do more. We have long promoted the lengthening of trips. Give us one more day and the majority of crowding and contact problems will disappear. Outfitters can do much more. Launch dates: spread them out throughout the week and throughout the season. We have only ourselves to blame. Our reluctance to implement relatively simple solutions has the rest of the world jamming their solutions down our throats.

   No working guides I have talked to feel that GCRG should abandon interest and activity on the environmental front. Guides are ferociously passionate about the protection of the Big Ditch and are proud of GCRG's efforts in this area. However, all working guides agree that GCRG has neglected the promotion of guide interests in the arena of pay and benefits. Is it a question of one or the other? I don't think so.

   There exists a grave discrepancy between companies in the area of pay and benefits. While many guides will leave the River with a tidy nest egg with which to continue their lives, many more will end their careers with only broken backs and memories in tow. GCRG will be inquiring into these matters and will report back.

   GCRG has been at the forefront of promoting guide professionalism and education. This is an area we will continue to focus on and expand. Ed Smith and I have recently presented the outfitters with a proposal to initiate internet-based continuing education for guides at no charge to guides. Proposed funding would come from the Colorado River Fund and, in essence, cost outfitters nothing. This industry-wide solution is currently the only one which addresses the recent Park mandate for continuing guide education. We will keep you posted on developments in the area of continuing guide education.

   Another area in which GCRG has excelled has been in the realm of communication and education via the Boatman Quarterly Review. The bqr has been nurtured into an outstanding publication and will continue to present a loud and clear voice for the boating community. In addition, the GCRG web site is being resurrected and will be a growing resource of information and opinion. Stay tuned.

   These are heady times. There are many loud voices and emotional tirades. There is much to be done. The divisiveness of the past must end. We are all stakeholders in the protection and the future of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. While not losing our particular focus, we must find common ground and forge working relationships with those who we don't always agree with. As numerous and vocal are the myriad stakeholders, none know the day-to-day, season-to-season experience, which is the River flowing through Grand Canyon, as we do. This is our unique perspective and this is what we, as guides, have to share.

Chris Geanious

big horn sheep