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Reviews from Wally Rist via GCPBA Bulletin board

                      Arizona Daily Sun

                      The Waiting List

                      Boatman’s Quarterly Review


From: [] On Behalf Of Walter Rist

Sent: Tuesday, March 21, 2006 10:15 AM


Subject: [gcpba] Book Report..Hi Jack a River


At the urging of several list members I have finally read Hijacking A River by Jeff Ingram. My overall rating of this book is very good. Reading for me was a little slow because of unnecessary repetition. However, I am very glad I read it and thank those who encouraged me to read it.


  I am not a professional book reviewer, only a Canyon river runner who started in 1968. I would suggest others reading this book to get a better picture of how things have evolved to this point. But I caution you. This story is mostly about the fight to have a river wilderness (no motors) rather than the fight for a better permit system. The last few chapters (1980 to today) deserve the reader’s closest attention. The previous 400 pages are interesting and important, but do not give the reader a good picture of where we are today.


  Perhaps the major point I took away is that Congress, strongly influenced by a very vocal minority group of commercial operators, has gutted the GC NPS from doing what they as the professional thought was best to do. Much like many other current day issues congress has empowered itself to micro manage many things that it should delegate to the professionals. As a result, GC NPS (and other agencies as well) manage by confrontation avoidance. The management plan is not what the professionals, GC NPS, think is right or wrong or best for the resource, but the plan that produces the less intense confrontation often taking on more confrontation but avoiding the very intense confrontation. Some may call it litigation confrontation.

It certainly attempts to avoid confrontation with congress.


  Over the years my conclusion has been that the GC NPS as individuals has been very dedicated to the right things. AS a political organization it has not lived up to its responsibility. The facts from this book seem to support this.


  So my suggestion is for us as private boaters to work with the individuals of the GC NPS and support them.


  Another major point I took away was that the commercial operators (and its not all of them) have been winning the war because they are far more organized and unified in their pursuits.  The rest of us are split into several less organized and often fighting with each other groups. And then the very nature of most of us produces a third group which is not at all organized or united. We are the mavericks who have very strong feelings and opinions and perhaps are more resistant to compromise.


  The first 400 pages was for me a memory refresher. Most of the main players I personally knew and rowed trips with many of them. Fred Eiseman is to this day still a close personal friend. I had dinner with him in Scottsdale in November. He and I go back to 1953 when he was my seventh grade science teacher in St Louis. All during his active river years we talked often. Like most of us he was a little self serving, but he was truly interested in protection the resource and the quality of the experience. He had previously rowed for Georgie White and for Gay Stavely. Today he has little interest in the situation at Grand Canyon. We do talk about it but not at depth. I wish more had listened to him back then as I think he was very much on the right track. A little dogmatic, but so what.


  Martin Litton was another main player. One of the reasons I read this book was to see why there were a few on this listserve who felt he had betrayed the cause. The book attributes Martin's motives for apparent shift in position as motivated by money. That is an assumption the author makes with no real facts to support that assumption. I rowed for and with martin from 1970 to about 1981. I still talk with him whenever I can.  I can unequivocally state that Martin is not a man motivated by money. Pages

328-343 covers the period when he apparently shifted position and signed with the comm ops. His motivation here was not money. I suspect that his position for abandoning wilderness was very similar to mine currently.

Wilderness along the river had long been gone. It probably disappeared in late 60's. Martin, and I still would prefer to see a motorless river, but that wouldn't recapture its wilderness status except for maybe on paper.

During my commercial rowing days I did not like motors on the river.  However, I did figure that it was not a good idea going around telling other commercial operators to get rid of their motors.

I, like martin felt, we would be better served by not pissing these comm ops off. After all we were talking with them numerous times a day working out cooperative plans for camp sites and visitation at deer creek etc.


  It was quite a surprise to see myself quoted on p270. The author missed my point here. At a public hearing in Phoenix in about 1978 I spoke on the then proposed plan. The author quoted me as saying there were already too many rules and regulations which I opposed. My point was that the River was already too crowed in 1978 and daily contacts with other parties was beyond an acceptable limit. My point was that the NPS was making more and more rules and regulations in order to handle more and more people which would only necessitate more and more rules regulation etc. For example my first trips did not use fire pans, or porta potties, but it had become necessary to require them to accommodate more and more people. The NPS solutions were and continue to be what rules need to be imposed so that mere and more people could make the trips. My point was and still is the NPS should work on a realistic plan to limit demand not on how to accommodate it. My suggestion then (and still is today) to put a reservation system in place for all folks wanting to go on a river trip.


  Incidentally, things have continued to evolve with more and more regs. Now, no camping at Tapeats, Little Colordo visitation limits are more and more rules to accommodate more and more people. What next? scheduled camp sites, time slots for visitation at elves etc.??


  My suggestion. Read the book or reread it. Try to understand why we are where we are. That can't be changed. Look for ways to go today. In my opinion, I would like to see steps to recapture wilderness, but I do not think that is likely to happen.


  If you have read this far you are certainly capable of reading this book.


  Wally Rist

'Hijacking' a world's wonder by SETH MULLER Sun Staff Reporter 01/04/2004 Arizona Daily Sun, Flagstaff AZ

Advocates for noncommercial boat trips in the Grand Canyon are approaching this year with the same trepidation as a series of class VI, boulder-strewn rapids.  By Dec. 31, 2004, the National Park Service must complete a Colorado River management plan for the waterway's Grand Canyon stretch before renewing or augmenting the concessionaire contracts for the 14 commercial raft companies. The Park Service also will have to figure out how to deal with the growing demand for private permits to run the river-- the waiting list is more than 8,000 permits long and up to 20 years.

Some private boaters have organized as River Runners for Wilderness, they will start the year by adding a significant tome to their argument that the river has become too commercialized. This week, the organization will release "Hijacking a River: A Political History of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon" through the Flagstaff-based Vishnu Temple Press. The 500-page book by Jeff Ingram of Tucson is a detailed, multi-sourced account of how river running, the idea of wilderness and federal management have had impacts on the Colorado in the Grand Canyon through the late 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s.

Tom Martin of River Runners hopes "Hijacking" will give people an opportunity to learn about how the river came to be managed like it is, with long waiting lists, continued motorized watercraft and bureaucratic resistance to wilderness designation. "When it comes to all the stuff we're dealing with today, Ingram has already been there," Martin said. "He knows the history, and this thing has been going on a long time."

Ingram became the first Southwest representative of the Sierra Club, a position given to him by then-president David Brower. In his work with the Sierra Club, Ingram found himself gaining intimate knowledge of the political landscape and how its changes affect management of the actual landscape. "Back in the 1970s, there was a number of things going on, with the proposed expansion of the park and river as wilderness," Ingram said. "I started collecting materials and saving files with the thought that I would write a history of Grand Canyon National Park and all of the things that have happened to it. Then, life got in the way, but modern history happened when the whole business of planning for the river started in late '90s."

Ingram met with Martin, and Martin asked him to write the book as a way to make more information public on how the past determined the present. "Today, the river runners haven't had a clue as to why we have to pack our solid wastes. They don't know how the commercial river companies become concessionaires," Martin said. "There's nothing else out there like ('Hijacking'). It's opening up a whole new realm of literature."

Martin and members of the River Runners contend that those who want to run private trips down the river are not getting much consideration. In December, park management decided to stop taking names for the private permit waiting list, noting that the list had grown too long. Reports from the Park Service show that they want to reduce the list's numbers as they are unsure of how the management plan will work. "I am just astonished," said Jo Johnson of River Runners, in an earlier interview. "I'm surprised they would do this, and it's not a nice surprise. There is already such a disenfranchisement of private boaters." Martin said that, meanwhile, the Park Service has not put any restrictions on the commercial outfitters, which could conceivably book trips into 2005 and beyond. Martin is concerned that the park might be leaning toward a plan that penalizes private boaters, but he is optimistic that the Park Service has fully involved the public in the process.

For river runners or environmentalists, Ingram has some advice based on his experiences with the Grand Canyon and the politics that affect it. "After 40 years in environmental matters, it's clear to me the most important thing is stamina," Ingram said. "It's possible that we could get a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, and all of the sudden the political landscape changes."

Reporter Seth Muller can be reached at 913-8607 or                                                       

The Waiting List  The Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association Quarterly Spring 2004


The Bewildermess


             “Hijacking A River, A Political History of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon” by Jeff Ingram, a long time fighter for the vision of an expanded and Wilderness protected Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) is a timely effort wrapping up the political history of the Park over the last forty or so years.

            Deserving of a review, this book is for sure, for as his story unwinds much clarity is bestowed upon the often bewildering mess confronting and confounding the efforts of the “private,” or “self-guided” — the term Ingram prefers — river runner in their quest to experience the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.

            Much of Ingram's early work involved the Sierra Club.

            Ingram’s book opens with a valuable introduction that sets the tone for the rest of the book. Fairly he confesses to his prejudices and opinions which drove him to take the actions without which our Canyon might be a very different place. The 1960’s battleground, Canyon War I I shall call it, was over the future of the Canyon floor and a proposed series of dams. The tool for eventual victory was to raise the awareness of both a populous who for the most part would never get to see the Canyon, and their legislators, along with river running pioneer, Arizona Senator Barry M. Goldwater, who had other plans for the Canyon and it’s waters.

             Central to the task was to bring more travelers into the Canyon via motorized river trips to witness and experience the magnificence and ambiance that are unique to the Grand Canyon. The Sierra Club sponsored trips were undertaken with the hopes that Canyon travelers would become evangelists for the Canyon’s behalf.

            An unintentional consequence: the introduction of masses of river travelers lit the fuse that set off an explosion in river travel resulting into the contemporary conundrum of how much Canyon use, what methods of access and how to divvy up the pie facing GCNP planners and administrators, constituent river runners and wilderness lovers along with their Congressional representatives for the subsequent decades.

            Along side of David Brower, Ingram led the battle against the construction of several dams within the Grand Canyon proper.

            As river runners pass through the shadows of Marble Canyon, the face of the cliffs on both sides of the Canyon bare the scars of construction efforts that evidence how close we of the present, and all for the foreseeable future came to losing the bottom of the Canyon to the grand schemes to harness and divert the waters of the Colorado to fuel the growth efforts of expansionist western dreamers. If they had had their way, there would be no Vasey’s Paradise nor “river running” and back country hikers would be greeted by a very different scene upon arrival at the waters edge.

            A deep bow and a large round of cheers to those folks who stood up to the nearly relentless developmental pressures of the time in the face of ridicule and derision.

            The cast of characters in this forty plus year saga seems endless and the author has included a useful “readers guide” at the end of the book to help the readers sort out who’s who and when they were "who."

            The book contains no photographs, but there are a number of maps included.

            With the battle for dam construction won once and for all, Ingram, then the first Southwest Representative for the Sierra Club, and others turned their attention to an inclusive and logical expansion of the Grand Canyon National Park’s boundaries and formal wilderness designation for the GCNP. I'll call this round Canyon War II, this war was a “two front attack.” The Canyon boundary battle front scored success in sort of a “piece meal” manner — that success coming in various stages and forms, the ultimate being the creation of the Grand Canyon - Paraschant National Monument established by President Clinton in 2000. While not a part of the “whole” as envisioned by Ingram, those canyons and plains have received recognition for their outstanding qualities and Clinton’s popular designation has withstood attack from Republican lead initiatives to undo the Monument.

             Canyon War II’s second front was the battle to seek formal wilderness designation for the GCNP. Ingram's vision for a Wilderness GCNP had no room for the motorized river trip. In Ingram's and other wilderness advocates' view, the motorized trip “degrades” the Canyon experience, hurrying and scurrying masses who might not even really care along in promoted, pre-packaged, high profit, less than worthy vacations, to the exclusion of others whose use might be better suited to the opportunity afforded by the Grand Canyon’s unique character. Why no motors? Because from Ingram’s point of view (and Wilderness advocates, in general) the use of motors detracts from the potential that a Grand Canyon experience can offer.

            The Wilderness advocates advance the notion that the Grand Canyon is alone in affording an opportunity for a trip style and ambiance unable to be duplicated in any other place in North America.  Unique in that it is possible to have long, slow trips uninterrupted by contemporary distractions and therefore both the Canyon and it’s visitors deserve the “best” that nature can provide and that the Park Service can administer. Not many river runners or outdoor lovers in general would argue with that premise. From Ingram and others, point of view motors have no place in such an environment and need to go.

            Motors speed participants through the Canyon depriving their passengers the quality of experience they “should and could have” and at the same time annoy and detract from other visitors quality of experience.

            To motor trip operators those were and are fighting words. The resolve of the motor concessionaires vs the Wilderness advocates has become legend. In the author's words: “the other side can certainly accuse those of us arguing for wilderness and the elimination of motors as being readier to fight than compromise. Our answer was and still is, that our position only has one element: a motor-free Grand Canyon Wilderness including the Colorado River.” Ingram goes onto clarify this position in regards to the need for concession services, “Within that parameter, the comm ops were welcome and even encouraged to provide their services and make a profit, since they would be providing a worthwhile Park experience, ‘enjoyment unimpaired’ by the noise and other noxious effects of motors.” (pgs. 28-29)

            The majority of the book is spent recounting the battles, victories, near victories and out right failures of activist efforts. The author holds the concessionaires — whom he terms “comm ops” through out the text — especially motor operators —responsible for the failure. He builds a strong case that “motorizers” behind the scenes and up front meddling has stood in the way of a motor free wilderness designation for GCNP. The outfitters opposition comes in spite of historically consistent efforts by GCNP planners and administrators to eliminate motor trips from the Grand Canyon.

            Ingram paints a picture of a Park Service clear with it’s goals: “The desired river experience is felt to be the slow float trip in small parties without power. Management direction is to eliminate the motor from the river trip in a phased program prior to recommending to Congress the placement of the Colorado river in a wilderness” (p-30), but constantly frustrated in it’s attempts to manifest those goals. Perhaps even frustrated by the Wilderness Act itself, he writes: “ ... the Wilderness Act of 1964 incorporated a loophole that said while the Act generally prohibited motorboat use, it could continue where it had already become established, subject to any restrictions determined to be desirable ... So the 1971 recommendation could have included the river, but subject to this loophole.” (pgs. 30-31) And, of course by the concerted and effective efforts of the “comm ops” who have steadfastly argued the merits of their methods in opposition to NPS efforts to effect change. Interpretation of this “loophole” continues to be the source of friction between wilderness advocates, private boaters and Park concessionaires.

            Not to be discounted, and to be sure Ingram doesn’t, is the effect of the mixed signals transmitted to the NPS by the ever changing opinions of the various Congressional representatives involved in these battles, notably Goldwater, Senator Morris Udall, Senator Dennis DeConcini and Representatives Sam Steiger, and Bob Stump, all from Arizona, as well as the steadfastly Wilderness opposed Utah Senator Orin Hatch and Rep. James Hansen.

            Both Goldwater and Udall initially supported the elimination of motors, later softening their positions to outright opposition in the case of Goldwater, to vacillating by Udall and later, DeConcini. Nor has the historical change from Republican to Democrat to Republican chiefs in the White House gone unmentioned. Such changes have not often bode well for wilderness proponents efforts.

            While “Hijacking A River” is primarily an account of efforts to establish a motor free Grand Canyon wilderness, the access out of balance plight of private, self-reliant river runners is well documented by the author. Much of the historical reference information used to compile the book is drawn from the records collected by the GCPBA in it’s successful 2000 lawsuit against the NPS.

            In Ingram's words, “The self-guided point-of-view was one I often sympathized with, but was not at the heart of my personal Grand Canyon efforts.” (p-102) Thankfully he seems to have taken our point-of-view to heart by including a very complete record of the building private boater efforts for recognition and fair treatment throughout the four decades of river running history consumed by this political strife.

            Ingram takes on the entrenched myths of oar vs motor vs private vs commercial safety, sanitation, impact on the resources, experiential preferences, repeat use, value of experience, trip contacts, quasi commercial — “pirate” trips, rental of equipment, and so on with great detail, and in the process blows them all right out of the water.

            It came as a surprise to me to read how complete the research of the 1970’s actually was and a further surprise that the techniques of the current planning process are not much different than those applied in the 1970’s, right down to computer modeling, facilitated constituent meetings held at various locations around the country, the gathering of opinion, focus groups, inadequate administrative to constituent communication, and a bevy of law suits. Each a tool of the current planning process. Seemingly, nothing ever changes — hopefully not a prophetic observation on my part.

            What's different today is the current level of public involvement. The 1970’s efforts generated the participation of just a few hundred people, the current effort 1000’s with nearly 55,000 comments recorded by the NPS, including very detailed recommendations as to the future shape management policy should take from a number of organizations. Perhaps we are now in the midst of a gathered storm of discontent foretold by early activist Joe Munroe with his statement, “As long as the commercial passenger gets easier and more preferential treatment than the non-commercial user, you can be absolutely certain that the struggle will never end.” (p-329)

            These chapters in the book are very valuable and timely in today's context. They explain many of the prejudices and administrative actions that, frankly, have unfairly been leveled at the noncommercial, self-reliant, river running community and perpetuated by GCNP staff, outfitters and their employees.

            From my point of view, everyone involved in the current planning efforts at the GCNP, from planners, legislators, advocates and constituents should read this material. Readers will come away with a much better understanding of the entire dreary situation.         

            One of Ingram's astute observations as to what kept the effectiveness level of earlier private efforts for fairness low was that of the failure of the various self-guided groups to work together. As he says, “We should try and build a common front of conservationists and self-guided users.” (p-360) Even though the author recognizes the problem he seems to have been part of it. Throughout the book Ingram continually toss denigrating comments —”word bombs” — towards those of differing viewpoints — including contemporary non-commercial constituent leadership. It's a distraction.

             Frequently, with a whiff, sniff and a wave of hand he seems to dismiss the arguments of others as invalid, sometimes revealing his own ignorance of an issue, as in the example of the potential for the lessening of the quality of experience that might result from a multiple daily oar only launch scenario as has been proposed and advocated by “pure” wilderness advocates.

            Ingram writes “... some rowing advocates’ new line that motors were good because they can keep trips away from each other. They seemed to think there was some virtue in having different trips ‘passing by’ during the day compared to ‘bumping into’ the trips that launched into each other” adding the sarcastic “Ah to be passed by several motor trips — what a joy! To see once again the same rowing trip — how distressing! Thus the erudite speculations of river metaphysicians.” (pgs. 145-6)

            To the author, forget your motor trip prejudice in your  attack. Trip clustering is not a not a motor vs oar issue, it’s simply a traffic management issue. No river runner I know wants to hang with any other river trip, motor powered or oar powered, just as no hiker in pursuit of solitary repast would want to continually encounter another hiking party on the same path to the same goal. The fact is motor trips do move on by and when they are gone, they are gone. For a lot of us, that is a good thing. For the experienced, ditching another trip is bothersome but easy, for the inexperienced, not so. And, yes, clustering might be avoided by the adoption of additional management techniques, such as staggered launches, assigned campsites and assigned or limited visiting rights at various attractions, but that is an argument not yet warmed to by either self-guided or commercial advocates. The additional regulation to enforce such a regime seems to fly in the face of the "pure" Wilderness vision.

            To his credit, from time to time Ingram acknowledges his irascible tone, going so far in his “Acknowledgments” (at the end of the book) to thank an unnamed former NPS staffer for offering a critique of the books tone, which the Ingram claims to have resulted in a “softening” — “some anyway” — of his “intemperate” tone. Good fortune for Ingram.;

            From time to time it seems that Ingram is idealistically at crossed swords with himself, as in the following series of comments concerning compromise: “Non-combatants often wonder and whine: Well why can’t you just compromise? The best answer I can come up with is that advocates push their views, and it is the job of politicians to weight the competing pressures and do the compromising.” (p-78) Then latter on decrying the “comm ops” almost compliant efforts for a legislated solution. At another point musing “... of course we all stayed in the trenches we had dug for our interests, but what if this really had been a possible opening to compromise with the motorizers? It is worth remembering that war may be hell, but negotiation is truly difficult.” (p-331) As earlier quoted, “... that our position only has one element: a motor-free Grand Canyon Wilderness including the Colorado River.” (p-28)

            His statement leaves no doubt  that there is no chance of negotiating on the issue then, in a softer moment going on to say : “I cannot help wondering about a middle ground, an alternative to an immediate motor ban, of a motor-free wilderness far enough in the future so that, though we have failed to provide wilderness for ourselves, we could pass one onto our grandchildren and beyond. Or an alternative of temporally expanding wilderness, starting with the six months of winter use and growing. Or an alternative of a ‘bought’ wilderness, where motorizing decreases due to NPS and public incentives. Discussion of this sort was what we lost by never having a congressional debate ...”(p-400)

             Ingram makes the point throughout the books final chapters that focus on the current non-commercial situation that neither the Park Service nor commercial operators regard the self-guided with much esteem, treating their issues at best as an after-thought.

            Yet with that said, it seems to appear that the author could find only one current, solely private river runner with no past or current stake in the economics of Grand Canyon river running to consult with in the preparation of his book. According to the book's acknowledgments and credits, from what I can determine, for those chapters on the current state of the private vs commercial vs NPS situation, Ingram interviewed only one person that does not have a background as a either a former commercial river guide or as a former NPS employee or both.

            Those criticisms aside, everyone who wants to be better informed and wants to participate in shaping the future of Canyon use would do themselves well to read “Hijacking A River.”

            For Ingram, two victories out of the three Canyon wars. A fine record of achievement. The third war is still raging on two fronts — fairness for the self-guided and Wilderness designation for the Canyon.

            As Canyon War III seems to be reaching it’s D-Day, perhaps all the combatants would do well to pause and consider these wise words Ingram offers, “... here are a few thoughts about the joys of political conflict. Controversy is a riotous stew of intellect and emotion, so bound up in each other that when the combatants state what they claim is fact on their side, they get a glow from it. The declamation of arguments, sober and otherwise, engenders a sense of well being, even power. Contestants listen to themselves and their allies and feel right, justified, healthy. To hear an enemy twisting the truth brings a surge of righteous anger. These are not universal human traits. For people not involved, or who are repelled by conflict, the tendency is to stand back, even decry unnecessary (verbal) violence, speak up for the middle ground, compromise. This is irrelevant to the strugglers; the hunt is on, the wind is up, so charge, blowing the horns, lances lowered! What thrills! To be right! To be telling the truth to power and to your enemies! The mixture is the headier because it has nothing to do with the content of the argument; it has to do with the sense of being true, of having something worthwhile to defend and/or advance, of needing to win in order that decay and death be staved off.” (p-34)


For the Waiting List, Richard Martin

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Boatman’s Quarterly Review Spring 2004      The Journal of Grand Canyon River Guides, Inc


I’ll confess at the outset that when I agreed to read and review this book, I didn’t think that I would enjoy it or have much good to say about it. It was, as I expected, limited in a number of ways, but in spite of it’s flaws I think Hijacking A River deserves a larger audience than it is likely to find.

                During the period from 1966 to 1969, as interest in Grand Canyon boating was taking off  (no doubt in part due to the post-Glen Canyon dam river environment), author Jeff Ingram was intimately involved in the controversies over the management of the river. As he states in his introduction, “As the author of this book, I have a definite point of view, shaped over almost twenty years in the 1960s and ‘70s fighting to protect the Grand Canyon and to enhance peoples ability to enjoy it in ways that do not damage the place and allow us to enjoy it on its terms. The fighting was necessary, is still necessary, will continue to be necessary, because others see the Canyon very differently.”

                Ingram is an unapologetic opponent of motorized boating in Grand Canyon, an advocate of designating the river as a non-motorized “Wilderness” as well as a severe critic of the National Park Service and the companies that run commercial trips on the Colorado River. And in the mid to late 1960s, he was on the staff of the Sierra Club, their Southwest Representative, opposing the construction of more dams and fighting for his vision of good management for the Colorado River, in opposition to the rapidly expanding interest in commercial boating.

                Consequently, this “history” is told from a very personal point of view. Ingram does not like commercial operators, and makes no bones about it. They are deliberately trivialized as “comm. ops”, just as some folks have dismissed Sierra Club conservationists with the term “tree huggers.” Nor does he have anything good to say about motorized boating in the Grand Canyon—he doesn’t like motors, and thinks they have no place in the “wilderness”—which is what he believes the Grand Canyon would, and should, be, if it were not for the pernicious influence of  commercial outfitters and their cronies in the National Park Service.

                Like most true believers, Ingram never bothers to consider the possibility that people holding different points of view might have as much reason for their opinions as he has for his own. Consequently, rather than engaging anyone with different views on managing the river, he dismisses them—and their opinions—as obviously wrong, if not downright evil. This “holier than thou” attitude was, no doubt, at least part of the reason that the Sierra Club’s—and Ingram’s—plan for managing the river went nowhere. He’s definitely preaching to the choir here.

                Most of Hijacking A River details events and controversies of the late 1960s and 1970s. The interesting decade of the 1980s—when Ingram was no longer an active player—is quickly skipped over. There’s nothing about the floods of ’83 and ’84, while Glen Canyon Environmental Studies is mentioned twice, both times in a single paragraph. Grand Canyon River Guides, and the successful three year campaign that led to the Passage of the Grand Canyon Protection Act, isn’t mentioned at all. While Ingram obviously sympathizes with private (i.e. “non-commercial”) boaters—and does mention their lawsuit which restarted the Colorado River Management Plan (CRMP) process—it’s easy to get the impression that his knowledge of private boaters is limited, at best.

                In spite of these shortcomings and others—a jarring style of writing stands out—there’s a lot of interesting material here. The early history of commercial Grand Canyon boating, and its spectacular growth during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, was before the time of most current guides. The current controversies over allocation, wilderness, motors and the relative importance of preservation versus recreation , to mention a few, have a long  history that predates the involvement of most of the folks now embroiled in these issues. Arguments about the importance, accuracy, and relevance of research in managing the canyon go back a long time.

                There’s an entertaining account of how human waste was ignored, until that became impossible, then containerized in privies made of  55 gallon drums buried in sandbars near popular camps (until they become unapproachable), then voluntarily carried out (by a  few companies) before the NPS finally recognized (a decade after the Sierra Club) the necessity of hauling all waste out of the canyon, This brought back fragrant memories of my early trips.  A similar toe-dragging, head-in-the-sand attitude was adopted in regard to epidemics of communicable disease on river trips, following the shigella incidents in ’72 and ’79. However, Ingram is clearly impatient with both outfitters and the National Park Service, who were—to be honest about this—struggling to invent and manage something entirely new (for themselves, their customers, and future visitors). Characterizing them as greedy (outfitters) and incompetent (NPS) seems to me to greatly oversimplify the situation, and demonizes everyone who did not hold the Sierra Club party line.

                Between the covers of Hijacking A River you’ll find the names of some familiar character—perhaps a third of the outfitters from the early days are still active—but, like me, you may not recognize them from Ingram’s descriptions. Ingram has clearly bought into the idea that motorized boating dominates the Grand Canyon because, way back when commercial boating got started, the outfitters were obsessed with the economic efficiency of large groups, quick trips, and large passenger  to crew ratios. I think that he’s all to eager to ignore the obvious, that then—as now—it’s easier to sell a one week vacation trip than it is to sell one that is two  or three times as long, and more expensive besides. Most people take their vacations a week at a time.

                Ingram and his sympathizers obviously subscribe to the notion that a long, slow, non-motorized trip is the best way to see the canyon, but they go a bit further and argue that if you aren’t willing to do it their way, well, you should just stay home and make more room for people like them. I’m inclined to think—and the history of the past couple decades seems to demonstrate—that millions of other Americans simply don’t agree.

                In summary: this book has some rough edges and a very one-sided point of view. But it’s still very interesting, and—considering the on-going controversy over the Colorado River Management Plan—it tells an old story, but one that is still relevant. Others really do “see the Canyon very differently.” Ingram has written from a front-row seat perspective, and documents his side of the story with hundreds of references to documents, papers, testimony, meetings, newspaper articles, etc. You probably won’t agree with much of what he has to say, or how he says it. But, like it or not, it may be too important to ignore. In the controversy to come over the Draft CRMP, some folks will be using Hijacking A River as their bible, history book, and call to arms: those who disagree should at least know where they are coming from.


Drifter Smith

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