Upper North Fork Collaborative Settlement

Whitewater Boating Triggers

a Proposal

February 23, 2004


Recent whitewater boating discussions have focused on the magnitude of the use threshold that would trigger an additional boating day on the Belden Reach.  The current triggers stated in the draft Settlement are 130 or 160 boaters in a Dry Water Year depending on month and 180 or 200 boaters in a Normal or Wet Water Year depending on month.  A boating day for purposes of accounting was defined as “…use of the Belden reach for boating by one person for any part of a given day.”


On September 22, 2003, Sue Norman, Regional River Recreation Specialist, prepared a draft proposal for establishing social capacity thresholds on the Belden Reach.  The Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) designation for the Belden Reach is Roaded Natural.  According to the ROS guidelines the desirable criteria for social encounter/river trips for a “roaded natural” river section would be moderate to high contact with other river users.


A social capacity based on assumptions related to desired number of encounters with other visitors was estimated for this reach.  Examples of how encounters with other users can affect visitor experience include 1) inability to pull over in eddies at critical locations on the river because they are occupied by other users, 2) congestion on the river because groups traveling a higher travel rates catch up to groups traveling at lower rates, with insufficient room to pass safely 3) inability to utilize desired “play” feature because they are already occupied by other users, or get “knocked off” features by boats trying to pass through.  The variables included in an estimate of a desired social use capacity, was determined by considering the limiting river characteristics unique to the Belden Reach, including excessive riparian vegetation, and several class IV reaches with short site distance and few pools or eddies. These characteristics can affect not only the level of enjoyment for visitors, but even more importantly, the level of safety for visitors while on the river, as it relates to encounters with other boats.


Based on the characteristics of the Belden Reach, it was determined that a desired group size would be 6 kayaks, or 3 rafts, with a total number of 16 groups (utilizing a launch window of 4 hours, with groups launching at 15 minute intervals).    If all the users were kayakers this would result in a maximum of 96 boats a day.  If some of the boats were rafts the total desired number of boats would be less since 1 raft is considered to have the same impact as 2 kayaks when encountered. 


The primary concerns of the Forest Service as it relates to whitewater recreation use is to provide resource protection, provide a satisfactory and safe whitewater recreation visitor experience for the majority of visitors, and to minimize user conflict with other types of recreation visitors.   To address the concerns related to visitor experience and minimizing user conflict, it is proposed that use be evaluated in terms of number of boats, since this is the relevant variable when evaluating social capacity as it relates to visitor satisfaction and safety on the river.   Number of people is an inappropriate measure for social capacity, since 7 people could be in one raft, but is estimated to only have the same level of impact as 2 kayaks when encountering other users (both boaters and non-boaters). 


For the purposes of establishing an Up trigger for adding a boating day, to address social capacity and user conflict concerns, it is proposed to establish this trigger at 100 boats a day, with one raft counted as two boats.  Down triggers would be appropriately scaled back from the Up trigger of 100 boats (50 to 75 boats per day).  If the Up trigger is reached, it is likely the total number of people on the river would exceed 100, since some rafts would be launched.  Should commercial rafting occur, the Forest Service will base use levels in commercial permits on number of launches, and number of boats, and not necessarily on number of people carried on commercial rafts. 


Because of the nature of the Belden Reach, social capacity threshold are particularly important as it relates to user safety.  The ability for users to negotiate the river safely in an overcrowded situation is significantly less then on pool/drop reaches such as Rock Creek and Cresta, because of the lack of slow moving water and short site distance.


This estimate of social capacity based on number of boats, is based on the professional judgment of Ms. Norman.  This professional judgment is based on 40 years of experience as a recreational boater, as well as a commercial guide and kayak instructor.  It is also based on the examination and review of river management plans on numerous rivers throughout the country, which have established a variety of measures to ensure user safety, visitor enjoyment, and resource protection including designated launch times, group sizes and number of launches, as well as visitor use levels (visitor use levels are primarily established for wilderness runs with dispersed camping).


However it is acknowledged that professional judgment should always be validated by hard data when possible. It also therefore proposed to implement use counts and visitor surveys to validate whether the existing social capacity standards are reasonable, and if not what would be a more desirable social capacity.  In conjunction with actual use counts, these surveys would ask visitor questions related to their experience and preferences related to wait times and congestions at launch sites, and encounters with other boaters while on the river. These visitor surveys could also be used to obtain information about encounters with other users to identify the degree to which conflicts with other users exists.  If these surveys indicate that visitor satisfaction (for both boaters and non-boaters) and perception of safety can be maintained at boating densities of greater then 100 boats a day, the standard could be increased accordingly.


In addition, if boating flows are established permanently on the reach, it is desirable that the USFS work with interested and qualified outfitters and non-profit groups to establish a fair allocation of use for the non-boating public that can only utilize this resource through a qualified guide.  This will help assure that the water given up for power generation to provide this recreational experience is benefiting a large cross section of society, and that the value of the recreational experience is equal to if not greater then the benefit to society of power generation.  Based on the above capacity estimate, it is recommended that the number of rafts be limited to 25 boats a day.  This would insure that the 100 boat capacity (with 1 raft equal to 2 kayaks) would allow for at least 50 kayakers to also use the reach on that day.  


Note*  If 25 rafts (at between 4 to 6 person/raft) utilize the reach, with 50 kayaks, this would result in a total visitor use of between 150 to 200 visitors for the day.


Use counts should be taken (at the campground used for the take out during the boating study).    We should check this but I think this would cover all users regardless of where they decide to access the river, need to check boating study.