Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Hualapai and the River — Then And Now: In two parts; Part 2

The second of a two-part review of aspects of Hualapai activities focussed on the part of the Colorado River that flows past their lands in the Grand Canyon.

SO, “NOW”.
The Hualapai, working with Las Vegas enterprises, have indeed come to see recreation (industrial mass tourism, that is) as the primary way for their reservation to provide them with an economic base, that goal they have been pursuing since 1883. I would like to consider these works more fully in another place, for they embody a more or less successful realization of their vision.

I will acknowledge here their activities on and near the Colorado itself:
Maintaining Peach Springs Canyon road  and the Diamond Creek take-out;
The Whitmore Wash helicopter transition point for motorized quickie trips;
Their own raft trips taking groups up and down pieces of the Colorado;
The impact-full helicopter traffic along the river to their picnic spot at Quartermaster Canyon.

And now, a new initiative has been put into place. After many years of fruitless discussion, the Hualapai have moved to issue permits for access to their land on the south bank. Here is what we know, based on information gathered by Tom Martin, of River Runners for Wilderness. This is a summary he prepared after telephone conversations and attendance at a public meeting:

Under the guidance of Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Chris Lehnertz, over a dozen representatives from Grand Canyon National Park met with members of the interested public during an hour and a half long meeting at the Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona, on Tuesday evening July 11, 2017.

Chairman Damon Clarke of the Hualapai Nation along with four Hualapai Nation representatives, were also in attendance.

Roughly sixty concerned citizens participated as well. They included do it yourself river runners and their representative organizations including River Runners For Wilderness, river gear rental company owners, river concessions owners, the concessions trade association representative, river guides association representatives, river guides, as well as representatives from at least two environmental organizations.

The meeting began with an introduction from the Superintendent, then moved to a review of the meeting ground rules based on mutual respect, followed by an introduction of the park staff.

At this point, NPS staff moved to various stations about the meeting room. Topic stations included the river unit, business operations, cultural resources, fisheries, and concessions, to name a few. There was no station for boundary issues, but that didn't stop questions about the Park boundary.

During the week of July 4, 2017, the Hualapai Nation began posting No Trespassing signs on left bank beaches along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.

For decades, the Hualapai Nation and Grand Canyon National Park have disagreed about the location of the boundary between the First Nation and the National Park. The disputed boundary covers a distance of 108.8 river miles, over a third of the length of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The Hualapai Nation claims their boundary with the Park is in the middle of the Colorado River, while the National Park Service claims their boundary with the Hualapai Nation is at the historic high water line on the south, left, bank.

According to Jeffrey Ingram, one of the two principal lobbyists for Park protection and enlargement during the 1972-5 legislative fight that resulted in the Grand Canyon National Park Enlargement Act, that Act resolved any ambiguity about jurisdiction and administration over river traffic by placing the river (its surface) in the Park under the National Park Service. The intent of the 1975 Act was to unify river traffic management and not to disturb Hualapai sovereignty over the south bank. This is known as the “wet foot, dry foot” doctrine: If you are on a boat on the water, and your feet go into water, you are in the Park. If your boat is at the south bank, and you get off and walk on the beach, rocks, etc., you are on Hualapai land. The water does fluctuate, yes, and the high water mark does pose an interesting debating point, but the intent of Congress was to bring about a practical river traffic administration while not disturbing Hualapai sovereignty.

Caught in the middle of any Park-Hualapai dispute are roughly 25,000 river runners who yearly float the Colorado River in Grand Canyon and use the area between the high water line and the middle of the river. (Note: as stated above, the Park and Hualapai were able in 2000-2004 to work together on river matters by setting the “dispute” aside.)

The land area of interest here includes over forty riverside camps, including National Canyon, 209 and Pumpkin Spring, plus a few riverside stops, such as Three Springs and the left scout at Lava Falls rapid.

Chairman Clarke of the Hualapai Nation had a handout for river runners interested in obtaining a camping permit for all river left campsites between 164.5 River Mile and 273.5 River Mile. The handout noted river runners can call 928-769-2227 and state the camp or camps they would like to make a reservation for. According to Hualapai representatives, the fee is $30 per person per night and is a camping permit only, not a hiking permit.

The Chairman and his staff were quick to state that river runners who are scouting rapids, such as Lava Falls on river left, do not need a permit to scout.

Superintendent Lehnertz stated the National Park Service would not provide river runners with legal representation should they find themselves in Tribal court if they were found camping on river left without a Hualapai camping permit.

It was also mentioned by Tribal officials that the NO TRESPASSING signs the Hualapai Nation had recently placed along the river had all been vandalized and had disappeared. This can be taken as pointing up the absurdity of establishing a fenced boundary that would separate the Pakr and Hualapai lands on the south bank. The cost and impractability of such fencing, as well as its intrusion on the wilderness landscape, should be clear to anyone. Congress intended a sensible, practical solution for river traffic, not an empty legal quarrel nor a ugly useless boundary fence.

Updated information (based on an Jul-Aug river trip): There are no notices about needing a permit to camp or enter Hualapai, either at Lees Ferry or along the river, with one exception: a metal sign at Spencer Canyon: “PERMIT REQUIRED”. No other information is supplied. No Hualapai presence was seen along the river until Diamond Creek. (When I called Hualapai offices inquiring about such permits, I was referred to four different people, no one was familiar with such permits.) This change in use of the “Hualapai shore” is obviously still a work in progress. It is Hualapai land, and it is up to each river traveller to decide how to deal with the situation.

Those are sins of omission that might cause river runners’ stress; the sins of commission are those indulged in by Hualapai boat-runners traveling at high speed from Diamond Creek down (and up?) stream. These high-spirited-jinks on the water are being carried out inside the Park, and it is no doubt that the lack of Park Service presence makes such activity possible. This is just the kind of issue that NPS and the Hualapai once would have discussed at the 2000-4 Core Group. That sort of cooperative discussion of river management needs to be reconstituted.

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