Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Chris Lehnertz held a Community Conversation on July 11 in Flagstaff, Arizona. This was the first meeting of an expected three per year.
Superintendent Lehnertz was joined by about fifteen park staff members at the event. Its stated intent was to "focus on the Colorado River where park staff will share information on the Park’s preliminary planning for future administrative river operations, on upcoming business opportunities for an administrative river operations to support the park, and long term stewardship for the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park."
Prior to the meeting Lehnertz said, “We have plenty of issues and projects that require official public meetings and public comments. We would like to slow down a little, meet people and start regular community conversations to visit about the Park and listen to our nearby communities.”
Hualapai Nation Chairman Damon Clarke was also in attendance, with associates.
GCPBA board members Helen Howard and Rich Turner were among approximately 85 attendees interested and concerned about issues regarding Grand Canyon National Park and Colorado River activity. This is their report of the meeting.
During the meeting, park staff spread out across the room, and we were invited to move around and talk to them about our interests/issues dealing with their areas of expertise.
Of major importance to boaters in Grand Canyon was a very serious speech by Chairman Clarke about the "No Trespassing, Permit Required" signs recently posted at National Camp.
This relates to an ongoing dispute regarding the boundary line between Grand Canyon National Park and the Hualapai Nation. The National Park Service claims it is at the historic high water line of the Colorado River on shore. The Hualapai claim it is at the middle of the river.
The short talk by Chairman Clark indicated that they were fed up with people misusing/abusing the land, and showing disrespect by leaving graffiti, trash, and vandalism. He said that the signs being taken down so fast was a sign of this disrespect. He would not elaborate when pressed for more information.
One of his associates was much more willing to talk. She emphasized that they are not closing places to visitation, but referred to a handout that stated a permit would be needed "for all Hiking, Camping, and Sightseeing on Tribal Lands at river left between miles 164.5 and 273.5" so they can keep track of who is there and when. She said that river runners scouting rapids at river left would not need a permit.
It would take at least two weeks to process and send a permit to reserve a camp. The Hualapai intend a $30 per person per night fee for camping only, not hiking. She seemed to imply that as long as people have permits, and treat areas with respect, they will be allowed in.
It must be noted that it is an extremely unrealistic situation for river runners to accurately predict before a river trip launches the day they would be that far downriver ready to camp for the night.
Furthermore, GCPBA contacted dozens of Grand Canyon private river runners via email. We asked for their opinions of camp conditions. None responded with comments of any appearance other than footprints that people had been there.
GCPBA also spoke with Mike Kearsley, who is part of the group developing the plan for the Park’s return to administrative river operations. He had a series of charts outlining the process and direction things are going to go. There will no longer be a river unit like the old one. Everything will be controlled by the Superintendent or someone from her office. This process will be approximately three years in the making.