APA Blog

Navigating Canyonlands' Future: Packrafting & the CRMP

Meagan Maxon
March 26, 2024

Header photo source: Rachel Marie (@understaffedpackraft)

Packrafting in Canyonlands National Park offers unparalleled opportunities to immerse oneself in the rugged beauty of an iconic American wilderness. The National Park Service (NPS) is currently revising its Comprehensive River Management Plan (CRMP) for the Green and Colorado rivers. This document will shape river access, safety regulations and the overall experience for packrafters there for years to come 

But what exactly is the CRMP, and why should packrafters and outdoor enthusiasts care?

A New Comprehensive River Management Plan

The CRMP serves as a blueprint for managing river corridors within the park, ensuring that they remain healthy, accessible, and enjoyable for current and future generations. The last plan was developed in 1981, and the rules for river recreation need to be overhauled to better address newer forms of recreation, such as packrafting. 

The park seeks to accomplish this through seeking feedback from the public. Public participation (including yours) will be fundamental to the development of a successful CRMP. Through soliciting input from a broad spectrum of park users, the NPS will craft a plan that responds to the community's needs and ensures the long-term health of the rivers for everyone to enjoy.

Here are some of the key areas the plan will cover:

Addressing Increased Visitation and Commercial Use: More people than ever are using the park’s trails and rivers. The plan will address how to manage the increase in visitation while protecting the park's resources. This will include assessing increased traffic in the backcountry (often facilitated by packrafts).  It will also address the growing demand for commercially-guided river trips.  Without well-defined guidance for use, it is difficult for the park to effectively incorporate visitor safety while avoiding resource impacts and ensuring quality visitor experiences.

Resource Protection: The park must protect the natural and cultural resources along and within the river corridors. This includes water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and archeological sites. These resources may be imperiled by changing visitation patterns, new and hybrid uses (e.g., hiking and packrafting, or 4WD and  rafting), social media amplifying traffic in popular destinations, and the presence of nonnative species (both plant and animal).

Climate Change Impacts: Ongoing drought conditions affect river flows in the park, and as part of the CRMP, park managers will develop strategies for managing the rivers in a changing climate.

Wild and Scenic River Designation: The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protects certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values. Presently, none of the segments of the Colorado or Green Rivers within Canyonlands National Park hold this designation. The upcoming plan aims to evaluate the eligibility of specific sections of the Colorado and Green Rivers for potential inclusion under the highest level of protection afforded to rivers in the United States. Six segments will be assessed for designation, including the entirety of Stillwater Canyon (Green River), and Cataract and Meander Canyons (Colorado River).

Source: Canyonlands National Park

Your Voice Matters: Share Your Insights!

As a member of the packrafting community, your perspective is crucial. We need you to make your voice heard by submitting a comment with the NPS before March 31st.  By doing so, you will help to ensure packrafters will have access to the unique trails and waterways of Canyonlands for decades to come.  

Please consider the following when submitting your comments to the parks service: 

Share what makes packrafting in Canyonlands special. If you yet haven't been, what attracts you to packrafting in Canyonlands?

What barriers exist to packrafting in Canyonlands? Particularly if you have had trouble arranging a trip or been turned off from arranging a trip please share this feedback with the NPS.

Currently, packrafting trips in the park aren't subject to specific use limits, but they're indirectly restricted by the availability of backcountry permits required for camping. APA would like to see the park take an adaptive approach to management and impose use limits only when and if conditions necessitate them. 

Emphasize that regulations need to be holistic to the extent possible and consider combined backcountry and river corridor travel. Impacts to backcountry travel from changes to river corridor regulations or vice versa should be considered.

Please share ideas for trips (especially bikerafting) that are currently not possible due to river regulations so the NPS can better understand what this use would look like. 

This comment period is a first step, and an important one. Your insights will help the NPS prioritize areas of focus in the coming planning stages.  Don't miss this opportunity to make your voice heard, and contribute to the preservation and enhancement of this very special place!

Source: Dan Broman

Timeline: What's Next?

Step 1: Preliminary Planning Phase 

The NPS is currently in the preliminary planning phase, and is gathering public comments to identify trends and concerns related to river management in Canyonlands. All public comments will be posted by the NPS and developed in coordination with various entities, including SITLA, BLM, Glen Canyon NRA, and Utah Public Lands.

Step 2: Define Alternatives

Building on the trends and concerns identified in Step 1, the NPS will define key environmental impacts and formulate preferred alternatives for river management. These alternatives will be presented to the public for feedback, with the selection process expected to conclude by winter 2024-2025.

Step 3: Review and Finalize 

The final step involves reviewing public comments on the proposed alternatives and collecting additional feedback from stakeholders to finalize the CRMP. The approval timeline can vary significantly depending on several factors, but it typically takes at least a few years to complete.

NPS Links and Resources

Comment Submission Form

CRMP Story Map

Project Information Page

The APA's Access and Stewardship Committee will be tracking the development of the new CRMP and provide updates as they become available. If you have questions or comments on this process you would like to share with the APA please send them to access@packraft.org