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
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
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
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.