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Shutdown could cancel Grand Canyon rafting trips

October 02, 2013 at 07:43 AM

The Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Tuesday was rigging day. The day that two groups of people from across the country would be in Arizona inflating rafts to launch on the Colorado River, loading food and camping gear, and strapping it all down so it doesn't end up in the water.

Instead, the groups of 16 people each camped out at a lodge near Lees Ferry unable to get into Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and close to the water. With the federal government shutdown, their Wednesday launch dates on one of the most coveted river trips in the country — through the Grand Canyon — appears unlikely.

"You put so much time and energy into it, I'm not even talking about the monetary costs but the social costs and effort to get to that point," said Alan Cammack, of Salida, Colo. "It's kind of like a glacier or a freight train. There's a particular set of events in motion that aren't going to stop until you get physically stopped."

Getting a permit for the trips isn't easy. Cammack was among the luckier ones to draw a permit through a lottery system last year. The leader of the other trip that has a scheduled Wednesday launch applied for the permit in 1995 and got it last year.

Among the two groups are high school and college students, lawyers, experienced river runners and first-time rafters who have spent the better part of the last year preparing for the trip that can cost $1,000 per person or more. They've traveled to northern Arizona from Colorado, California, Oregon, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Montana and Washington, D.C., to spend weeks on the river and gaze up at layers of rock, hike the canyon's backcountry and camp out on its beaches.

They'll be the first groups unable to do so if the federal government doesn't resume operations. Two private trips scheduled to launch Tuesday already had their rafts in the water before National Park Service officials arrived to cordon off the area and will be able to complete the trips.

Scott Lee was waiting with his wife, his son, his nephew and his nephew's friend. He said he understood that park officials had to close off the area but asked "could they bend the rules a little bit? Bet they could, but they won't.

"This is all about politics, it has nothing to do with money," Lee said. "It makes my skin crawl. I can't tell you how ashamed I am to be an American today."

Lee's neighbors in North Conway, N.H., are also waiting. Tiffany Burson said she and her husband were at the Grand Canyon in 1995, the last time the federal government shut down. Although they were able to hop on a helicopter to see the massive gorge, they weren't allowed through the park gates.

"Now here we are and fast-forward and this happens again," she said Tuesday. "I'm starting to think there's something strange going on."

More than 60 river trips are scheduled in October, the majority of which are self-guided.

Hilary Esry, of Manhattan, Kan., has read up on whitewater rapids, learned to oar a raft, and took first-aid, and safety and rescue classes so that she could lead a group of 16 people on the Colorado River. She's scheduled to launch Monday. If she can't, she said it will be "soul crushing.

"Everything I've been dedicating my life to for a year and a half will be ripped out from under me," she said. "I don't know if I'll get another opportunity."

National Park Service officials said they understand the frustration of not being able to complete what can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people. However, rafting trips won't be able to launch retroactively, and no decisions have been made on refunds or rescheduling, Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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