Don Hatch


   Don Hatch, son of pioneer riverman Bus Hatch, and owner of Don Hatch River Expeditions, ran his last rapid, as Dock Marston used to say, on Thursday, February 10, 1994. Don was born on 31, 1928, in Vernal, the second son of Bus and Eva Hatch. He literally learned to run rivers at his father’s knee, as did all the Hatch boys. Don was a teenager before he actually got to see a rapid; before that, his father Bus would make him crouch down in the cockpit of his Galloway-style wooden boat, so that all Don saw was the wooden sides of the boat and his father’s knees. Later, at a very early age, Don and his brothers began to run boats for their father, on the occasional commercial trip that occurred before the war.

   After World War II, Don entered the university of Utah, where he studied education. He graduated and obtained a teaching certificate in 1950, and began a long career as an elementary school teacher in Salt Lake City. Every summer, without fail, he was on the river with his father and brothers. At war’s end, wooden boats were still the norm, but Don saw the future (like a number of others at the time) in the inflatable surplus rafts that were just then becoming available. He soon convinced his father to make the switch and Hatch pioneered the use of inflatables on the Green and Yampa. As wartime restrictions on travel eased, more and more people wanted to take advantage of their new freedoms and see more of the country. Many came to Vernal to try their hand at river running, and Don, with Hatch River Expeditions, was there to take them safely down the river, to share his love of the canyons and wild places and send their home enriched by their experiences.

   Don was in the thick of many good fights over the river. In the late ‘40s, and into the 1950s, when the Echo Park Dam threatened to flood his beloved canyons, Don was one of the few Vernal natives who dared to oppose the dam. For his views he was vilified in Vernal, told he was a traitor to the community, and warned not to return. Don laughed it off, knowing that he was right and that eventually the community and the nation would come around to his way of thinking, and so they did. In the meantime, Don spent more and more time on the river, as Hatch River Expeditions grew from a part-time family business to a major outfitter. In the 1960s, when major dams were proposed for the Grand Canyon, Don fought that as well, realizing that some places need to be kept wild and free. In recent years, Don was in the middle of the efforts to attain National Park status for Dinosaur National Monument, believing that it was a good thing for his community and for the rivers he loved so much.

   After Bus Hatch died in June 1967, Don left his teaching career to move to Vernal and operate Hatch River Expeditions full time. During this time he was also heavily involved with the Western River Guides Association, which he had helped start back in the 1950s, when he lived in Salt Lake City. Don was always one of the leaders of WRGA, and recognized early on that the association needed to become more professional if it was to respond to the many challenges that commercial river running faced in those days.

   In thinking about Don’s passing I’m reminded of that old saying on the river, used to express the knowledge that you never really finish a river trip, that you will always be back. After running Lava Falls boatmen often turn to each other and say “Well, now we’re above Lava again.” I like to think that applied to Don. He hasn’t left us, he’s just above the big river we call life again, waiting to guide us in the next life as he guided so many of us in this one.

Roy Webb