Originally published in Rapid Media. Palmers Rapids, ON.
Streams and rivers in national parks that have been off limits to paddlers in the past may be one step closer to the whitewater community. The River Paddling Protection Act, which allows paddling sports in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the National Elk Refuge, passed in the House of Representatives on February 6.
If the act goes through Senate it will remove current prohibitions on paddling and will ask park services to look at the environmental and economic effects of whitewater boating in some of these sacredly held rivers.
“It’s one of those common sense bills that hopefully will be able to move through Senate,” says Mallory Micetich, for the Natural Resources Committee. She says some parks have been hiding behind old legislation for years. Now she says, there’s no reason so expect that this bill will not pass.
Whitewater boating—officially referring to paddle-propelled vessels such as kayaking, canoeing or rowing—is currently banned in some form in at least three major national parks: Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grant Teton.
“People hike into those parks and are drooling and wanting those experiences,” says Kevin Colburn ofAmerican Whitewater. He says there are a lot of places in the parks that could provide world class paddling opportunities.
“There would be amazing opportunities, whether it’s a class I canoe float with your family or the class IV Black Canyon of Yellowstone, which is the ultra-classic whitewater run that no one is allowed to do.”
He says keeping something like Black Canyon behind red tape to paddlers would be like closing off Yosemite for all rock climbers—an unbearable thought. In a press release from American Whitewater earlier this week, executive director Mark Singleton described the importance of lifting the ban like this: “We appreciate natural landscapes, and as conservation-oriented paddlers, we can play a key role in preserving and protecting these treasured natural resources. After all, you can’t love what you don’t know or appreciate.”
Colburn says American Whitewater has been asking National Parks like Yellowstone to look at lifting paddling restrictions since the 1980s.
The River Paddling Protection Act, which passed in the House Natural Resources Committee with unanimous consent, was sent to the House of Representatives in the last week of January. It was approved as part of the larger package of bipartisan bills under the Public Access and Lands Improvement Act and is now off to the U.S. Senate.
A news release on the Natural Resources Committee website says it hopes the act will “improve opportunities by removing red tape that stands in the way of responsible, local, economic development and jobs.”
In Yosemite, American Whitewater is expecting the release of a new management plan that fully evaluates whitewater paddling in the park.
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