GCPBA RiverNews 7/20/2017 – Grand Canyon Revives River Unit After Harassment Investigation

As we reported in a RiverNews on July 16, Grand Canyon National Park is developing a plan for the Park’s return to administrative river operations.  

This article about it, copied below, is from the Arizona Daily Sun, July 13, by Emery Cowan.  After it is the information from one of the poster displays from the July 11 Community Conversation with Superintendent Lehnertz.  It shows GCNP's timeline for the implementation of that process.

Read our report of the Community Conversation meeting here:


Sixteen months after Grand Canyon National Park abolished its river unit in the wake of a federal sexual harassment investigation, the park has drafted a new plan for how to reconstruct those operations. Before it was axed, the river unit supported a variety of river trips, from those related to canyon patrols to others needed for resource monitoring, preservation and research.

At a community meeting Tuesday evening, park employees made the first public presentation of how river operations could be organized and managed. All aspects of the changes still need approval by the park superintendent and Park Service regional office.

The reforms would make river operations an independent work group within the park that is overseen by a newly created administrative river operations manager who answers directly to the superintendent. Previously the unit was housed in the visitor and resource protection division.

The new organizational structure shortens the chain of command between the river group staff and the superintendent, which reflects an effort to improve communications and make sure potential issues can be relayed more directly and more quickly to the top, said Rachel Bennett, environmental protection specialist with the park. Bennett was among a group of eight people from across the park who served on the team that drafted the changes to river operations.

Communication, chain of command and follow up were highlighted in the January, 2016 Inspector General’s report on sexual harassment at Grand Canyon that set off the abolition of the river district and the park’s improvement efforts. The government investigator concluded that harassment complaints were not properly reported nor investigated after employees filed them with park supervisors.

Additionally, the park is proposing to expand oversight of river operations by the superintendent’s office and a new interdisciplinary team that includes members from the river district and other divisions of the park, Bennett said. The independent group’s responsibilities will include evaluating trip participants, reviewing post-trip reports and reporting any concerns to the superintendent. It will also help in hiring river group staff and developing policies and procedures related to river trips.

The plan includes several suggested policy changes as well, including a mandatory review of what went well and what could be improved on each trip, a more standardized uniform policy and better communication of clear expectations about trip conduct and the consequences of poor conduct.

“That's where we see the park needs to continue to work,” Bennett said of the last point.

The team working on the changes to river operations aims to have a final recommendation to Park Superintendent Chris Lehnertz and the Park Service’s regional director by August and the interdisciplinary team selected by late summer.

On Tuesday evening, park officials received some questions about how complaints from non-park employees will be handled in the future. Bennett said the park is working on a new tracking system that could be used for employee and non-employee complaints about other Park Service employees.

Bennett said her team is also looking at ways for the boating community to help monitor the park’s river operations. She acknowledged that the sexual harassment issues at Grand Canyon affected not only park employees but those working for private companies that contracted with the Park Service.

Dan Hall, one of the authors of the letter to former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that set off the federal investigation, agreed on the need for the park to create a method for outside oversight and feedback. That could take the form of a committee of non-park stakeholders that consults with park officials on an annual or semi-annual basis, he said. Many in the river community have been around much longer than most park employees and have valuable institutional knowledge, he said.

While acknowledging the hard work and dedication of park staffers, Hall said he hasn't seen any sort of attempt by the park to open up its process to what he called “real checks and balances.”

Christa Sadler, who has been a river guide in the Grand Canyon for 30 years, was also a supporter of outside monitoring and feedback.

She added that she'd like see personnel working with the river unit who understand and are supportive of the missions of research, education and resource-related trips.

“That was one of big problems we had was people who were running the river district who were law enforcement rangers and that was all they cared about,” Sadler said.

As far as whether the park’s changes will do enough to address the sexual harassment and workplace hostility that sparked the investigation, Sadler said that’s a much larger issue.

“That is going to take something different than just reorganizing the river unit,” she said. “It’s going to take a sea change in the way we see our fellow workers, the way we look at power, the way we see the relationship between men and women. It’s a much bigger cultural thing.”

RIVER OPERATIONS POSTER DISPLAY from Community Conversation event with Grand Canyon National Park Supt. Lehnertz, July 11, 2017

Grand Canyon National Park’s River Operations will serve and strengthen the mission of the National Park Service through the protection and stewardship of natural and cultural resources, and through the education of and advocacy for employees and park visitors.
River Operations Employees and all NPS employees on river trips will achieve their mission by:

  • ·         Practicing the highest standards of professionalism, and
  • ·         Using best management practices and current scientific research.

The future River Operations will be primarily NPS-led with some support from contractors.  Objectives for mission-driven work on the Colorado River include:

  • ·         Supporting public access through private, commercial and non-commercial permits
  • ·         River safety and emergency response
  • ·         NPS employee river knowledge, skills and abilities
  • ·         Stewardship of natural and cultural resources
  • ·         Education and youth involvement
  • ·         Logistical support for infrastructure maintenance and repair
  • ·         Strengthening tribal relationships

Timeline for Implementation of River Operations:

  • July 2017 – input from employees, Community Conversation, and Park Senior Executive Team input
  • August 2017 – Finalize recommendations for Regional Director and Superintendent decision on river operations
  • Late summer 2017 – River interdisciplinary team selection from Park staff
  • Fall 2017 – River IDT reviews all 2018 river trip requests and sets up calendar with approved trips.
  • Winter/Spring 2018 – Hire River Operations staff
  • Fall 2018 – Annual evaluation of NPS river operations
  • 2017 – 2020 – Transition from primarily contracted NPS trips to primarily NPS-led river trips.  Contracts will continue to be utilized for some full NPS trips and services related to trips such as food buys, shuttles, and/or boat operators.
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