Law enforcement officials have dispersed a group of river rafters and others protesters who had gathered near the river entrance to Grand Canyon National Park at Lees Ferry.
The federal government shutdown blocked off the most popular input to the Colorado River today, resulting in dozens of would-be river rafters, fly fishermen and tourists being turned away at the road downriver of the Glen Canyon Dam. National Parks Service and Coconino County Sheriff’s Office law enforcement personnel are on scene.
Some rafters with permits were allowed to depart this morning, but a group of about 20 people who had permits to raft tomorrow are now protesting at a roadblock to Lees Ferry Road.
“Our group has spent over $30,000 to plan this trip and make it happen, now we are being told to go home by unpaid park rangers,” said Drew Huemmler of Philadelphia.
The group’s trip leader, Pete Wisniewski, had first applied for the permit to raft the canyon back in 1995, the same year that Grand Canyon National Park also shut down.
Marble Canyon Lodge owner Don Foster remembers that shutdown and says it also had an impact on his business then, as it is having now.
“I remember seeing the roadblocks before at the entrance to Lees Ferry and the guides getting turned away,” Foster said. He says there are several dozen protesters currently lined up along Highway 89A in the same area now parked with their equipment.
The Foster family has owned the lodge for decades and seen it turn into a business that caters to the river rafting and fishing community over the past 50 years.
“We started taking cancellations as soon as it looked like (the shutdown) was going through,” he said. So far, they’ve only had about a half-dozen room cancellations, but he expects many people are waiting to see what will happen with the federal government before they cancel long-planned trips.
Wisniewski said that there are currently about eight large-capacity passenger vehicles at the entrance being blocked out, with a total of 50 to 80 people gathered. He says his group plans to hang out and camp in the area with their equipment to see if the Grand Canyon reopens by tomorrow.
“It definitely has a lot of impacts on tourism in this part of Arizona with fishing and downriver,” Foster said. “It’s sad those people spend years waiting for a permit only to end up with a cancellation.”
For more on the local effects of the shutdown, see Wednesday’s Arizona Daily Sun.