Changes for Running R2R2R / National Park Regulation


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Trad climber
San Diego
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 1, 2014 - 12:37pm PT

The national park will release a new draft of its backcountry management plan this fall to deal with overcrowding issues.

During his second year as a ranger at the Grand Canyon back in the late 1970s, Wayne Ranney got a call from another ranger stationed at Phantom Ranch—the lodge at the bottom of the canyon. “You won’t believe this,” he told Ranney, “there’s a guy from New Zealand running all the way from one rim to the other and back!”

“That sounded like the craziest thing in the world,” says Ranney. He went on to work as a geologist and a trail guide there, and for years that lone insane runner remained the only crazy person he saw attempting the steep 42-mile rim-to-rim-to-rim journey. He’s now the president of the Grand Canyon History Society, an international tour guide with Smithsonian Journeys and has written multiple books about the canyon. And, running across the Grand Canyon no longer sounds like the craziest thing in the world to him. In fact, it’s disturbingly normal. “Now, every day there’s someone running the canyon,” he says.

Certainly, not many people are running across in the middle of the summer. At least they probably shouldn’t be. But according to park staff, there can be up to 800 people inside the canyon on peak weekends in May and October. (Those numbers aren’t limited to runners or categorized by speed of movement.)

Phantom Ranch lodge is rustic and only designed for about 85 people. The campgrounds hold another 90. That overcrowding is forcing the park to address some of the problems the runners bring with them.

And many park users think those problems are plentiful.

Tales abound of exhausted runners and fastpackers—at some point on the speed continuum, the line between the two blurs—collapsing at the doorstep of Phantom Ranch or vomiting in the campgrounds. In their desperation and delirium, they cut to the front of water lines, clog trails and picnic areas by lying down, and leave things behind them. Rangers and more experienced visitors have to attend to struggling crossers and drive them the long way back around the canyon if they can’t make the return journey. These are not runners deliberately doing anything wrong; these are simply runs gone awry. But in the daily grind of overwhelming volume, these small transgressions become too much for the canyon to endure.

“They’re using the Grand Canyon as their gymnasium,” says Ranney. Even though his wife is a runner, he doesn’t believe running has a place in the canyon, where other extreme sports like mountain biking, paragliding and motor boating have already been banned. “I think running through the Grand Canyon should not be allowed.”

RELATED: Badwater Running, But On A Modified Course

This fall, the park will release a new draft of its backcountry management plan, with the process so far garnering hundreds of comments—including the calls to ban runners. The plan is expected to address not just running, but other growing adventure sports like canyoneering and packrafting. This past spring, the park released courtesy guidelines for runners, covering things like cleaning up your trash, yielding to mule packs and not using the canyon as a bathroom.

“I don’t think everyone understands what their impacts are,” says Rachel Bennett, the park’s environmental protection specialist.

They’ve also begun preliminary data collection and a pilot survey, says Linda Jalbert, wilderness coordinator for the park—counting the people on trails and asking them questions about their use. While the information still needs to be analyzed, they have seen an overall increase in the number of people in the canyon and in large groups doing events or crossings, such as a charity fundraiser group that dropped off busloads of people to hike/run from one rim to the other.

Unfortunately, some of those groups are not always prepared for what they’re getting into.

This past May, Jalbert says, “there were quite a few more people needing medical attention.” That puts a burden on limited staff and resources. One ranger was up all night, says Bennett, taking care of sick or injured people.

In 2004, Margaret Bradley, a 3:04 marathoner, died from dehydration on the backcountry canyon trails. Her picture now greets people at the trail entrances on the popular South Rim, as does a sign warning against attempting to cross there and back in just one day—a feat that is exactly what the growing number of runners are doing.

After the highest volume on peak weekends, Jalbert says, they get phone calls and letters complaining about the trash, crowds and rudeness as people rush past on the trails. Some of these problems are specific to runners, but many of them are simply a result of more people (whether running or not) on narrow trails and in facilities built for far fewer.

“The park has not put the money into upgrading facilities in reflection of the increased use of the park,” says Benedict Dugger, an Arizona coach and trail running guide specializing in Grand Canyon runs. Despite the fact that use in the park has increased across the board recently—4.5 million people visited the canyon last year—most of the facilities remain as they were built decades ago.

“Phantom Ranch is the exact same as 100 years ago, except they take Visa and Mastercard now,” Dugger says.

Boulder climber
Salt Lake, UT
Aug 1, 2014 - 01:41pm PT
Most runners are at least generally prepared. Are they going to do anything about the hordes of tourons that aren't at all prepared? Who without a doubt generate far higher amounts of unexpected use of resources?

This is bogus. Impose a permit system if needed but don't ban it.
Jebus H Bomz

Peavine Basecamp
Aug 1, 2014 - 01:52pm PT
I could see a permit system and more marshaling of support for those runs. Just because your obsession monkey tells you that it's possible for you doesn't make it so. Enough nanny state though.

Mountain climber
the ANTI-fresno
Aug 1, 2014 - 03:13pm PT
800 people in the canyon is overcrowding? Does that include all the rafters - 50 or so leave from Lee's Ferry per day on 6 to 21 day trips...
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Aug 1, 2014 - 07:16pm PT
I believe the problem is overstated. This was my first winter in the canyon but I spent a fair amount of time hiking, did 130 miles. All the runners I encountered were well behaved. If you want to travel the main trails (Bright Angel and North Kaibab) during the prime season it is going to suck, runners or not. There are literally dozens of other trails with few hikers and no runners on them. Banning running is a stupid idea, I mostly hike but sometimes I jog down sections, would that be illegal?

They busted a guy for organizing a huge Rim to Rim trip (2012 I think), chartered multiple buses. He bought 300 hikers/runners in and made a mess of Phantom Ranch. Many rescues, and the people who bailed on the north side went back up and found no transportation waiting, all the buses went to the south rim to pick everyone up. He ended up with 50 hours of community service, and a small fine.

in the face of the fury of the funk
Aug 1, 2014 - 09:04pm PT
and what of the alcohol-on-board fatalities on the river?

Trad climber
Aug 1, 2014 - 09:28pm PT
"What's that noise?"

"It's...the people."

"Let them eat cake."
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Aug 1, 2014 - 09:43pm PT
and why do the mules get a free pass?

Ice climber
Bozeman, MT
Aug 1, 2014 - 11:27pm PT
^this. There's no way mules have a lower impact then runners.

And since when is running considered an "extreme sport"?
ß Î Ø T Ç H

Boulder climber
Aug 1, 2014 - 11:41pm PT

The fines go directly into Obama's ACH.

Aug 2, 2014 - 07:27am PT
It is pretty extreme when you die doing it

Mountain climber
the ANTI-fresno
Aug 2, 2014 - 06:27pm PT
Is driving extreme now? Who knew.

Aug 2, 2014 - 07:02pm PT
Huh? Straw man much?
Ok, car racing.
trailrunners think they are so cool.

I don't know, Dave, maybe I am taking your point wrong now that I look at it

Climbers are at the top of the " hey look at me and all my jangling gear, damn I'm cool" list

Trad climber
San Diego
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 2, 2014 - 07:32pm PT
Climbers think they're pretty cool too. And many of us trash the outdoors in the same way. I've done the R2R2R at peak season in the spring and the effects are small. I hardly think banning runners is a solution, and it makes me nervous when park management bans anybody. Make them register and pay when they need help, but banning these people is just ridiculous.

Ice climber
Brujò de la Playa
Aug 2, 2014 - 07:46pm PT
The Park Service is offering a "drone-made" picturesque DVD that encapsulates all the thrills of the R2R2R2 (some are calling it The Just Like R2D2 Canyon Blues) which truly and succinctly memorializes of all the thrills of this rather insipid "running event" without any of the effort. Check it out a Amazon $19.99.

El Cañón Grande.

Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Aurora Colorado
Aug 5, 2014 - 03:28pm PT
The way to reduce park overcrowding is to put all those lands under the control of the forest service and BLM. Dont make everyone walk on the same trail, dont build more roads and welcome centers and so on.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Aug 5, 2014 - 03:47pm PT

Aug 5, 2014 - 07:36pm PT
The GC is a place for contemplation, awe, reverence. This is seriously diminished by hordes of lycra-clad, camelback-swilling, 20-something runners non-stop blabbing about their UP24 bluetooth fitness monitors and how "dude there was this chick at this bar last weekend...and so I'm like...and then she's like...blah blah blah". Plus they overflow the crappers at Phantom Ranch.

Social climber
Enron by the Sea
Aug 5, 2014 - 08:42pm PT
If you get in trouble of your own making you should have to pay for whatever help you needed in full, period, whether running or anything else. Ditto for the cost of someone having to clean up your goddam mess. Get that help and your damn lucky someone was there to provide it, so give sincere thanks then pull out your wallet and pay up, or do time. And as a runner, though not anywhere near an ultra-marathon type, I kinda get the endurance feat aspect of it, but the central corridor area of GC (which is what we're talking about here) is a crowd experience, with or without runners, and always has been. I don't get that attraction, yet it probably explains the lure as much as anything else.

But the bottom line is, you get yourself in trouble out there and then expect the government to bail you out gratis? F#ck you.

Jon Beck

Trad climber
Aug 5, 2014 - 09:58pm PT
But the bottom line is, you get yourself in trouble out there and then expect the government to bail you out gratis? F#ck you

That is not the bottom line, it is just your opinion, and it is certainly not the state of public policy in this country. Sure, it is fine to declare that everyone should be responsible for their own safety, but to turn rescue into a monetary commodity is quite frankly, third world. Actually it sounds a bit like a Tea Party solution.

As a generally rule I suspect that the users of National Parks tend to be more on the upwardly mobile side of the economic scale, dirtbags are in the minority. The Grand Canyon is chock full of wealthy foreign tourists dropping plenty of coin in the local economy. This equates to plenty of taxes which in turn fund SAR. Rescues represent a pretty small portion of the Department of the Interior budget. Tourists already pay for SAR.

The other problem with assessing rescue costs is the risk that people will delay calling for a rescue, making a bad situation worse, and further endangering the lives of both the victims and SAR. Maybe a certain duck could give his view of "pay to play"?
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