Boy Scouts Worried About New Day-Hiking Rules at Grand Canyon

A new permit fee and restrictions for day hikers below the rim of Grand Canyon could "crush" travel plans for some Boy Scouts, a leader for the organization warned.

On Thursday, the National Park Service published new rules for what it calls "extended day hiking" and rim-to-rim trips by non-commercial groups, stating the changes were necessary because of the impact of the increasingly popular activity. The rules include obtaining a $175 permit -- a large increase from the previous price of "free" -- and limits on the number of hikers from each group.

Schools, church groups and hiking clubs are the most likely to be affected.

See also: -Grand Canyon Guides Charged for Unauthorized, 90-Client Rim-to-Rim Day Hike

The rules don't affect below-the-rim camping, an activity that already requires hikers to obtain a permit in advance. Until now, though, anyone -- including nonprofit, non-commercial groups -- could plan and carry out a long day hike without regulation.

While signs at the South Rim discourage hikers from going all the way to the Colorado River and back in one day, plenty of people do it. The park service estimates that each weekend day in the peak season of spring and fall, about 800 people are hiking inside the Grand Canyon. About 400 to 600 of those folks "are hiking or running rim-to-rim in a single day," according to a news release.

Litter, crowding and "general concerns over trail courtesy" have become bigger problems because of this day-use activity, the park service states.

Starting September 15, any group that has advertised a day hike in the Grand Canyon in advance, requires participants to sign up, and has a compensated organizer must obtain the $175 permit. No permits for commercial guide services will be issued. Group sizes will be limited to a max of 30 people.

Larry Abbott, CEO for the Boy Scouts of America's Grand Canyon Council in Phoenix, which oversees most of the state's Boy Scout districts except the Tucson area, says he's especially concerned that only one permit per day, per group, will be issue by the park service.

If the National Park Service counts the Boy Scouts as a single nonprofit agency, only one permit per day would be issued for the Scouts' Grand Canyon Council, which is made up of about 2,000 separate troops. The limits take away the ability for several of the separate groups to do extended day hikes on the same day, even if members of each group aren't hiking together, Abbott points out. When hiking the Grand Canyon, Scout groups usually include a dozen or fewer hikers, he says.

Abbott could provide no estimate on how many Scouts hike the Grand Canyon each year, whether on day hikes or camping trips.

He also expresses concern about the new process for proving group members are covered by insurance, and about the $175 fee, which he called "pretty onerous."

For troops in low-income areas, the fee could "crush" some planned trips, he says.

Kirby-Lynn Shedlowski, spokeswoman for Grand Canyon National Park, had little sympathy for Abbott's criticism. Several Boy Scout troops could do day hikes under one Boy Scouts permit, she tells New Times, and the 30-person maximum rule would apply for the total number of people doing a rim-to-rim hike.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.