Under a new concessionaire, Hite Marina could change from a defunct location to a land-based adventure center. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area representatives announced the possible change at Nov. 7 and 8 meetings of the Utah Guides and Outfitters and at Oct. 23 and 24 meetings of the Colorado River Guide Outfitters Association.
“What is triggering this is we’re seeing a change in visitor use in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. We’re getting a lot more land-based recreation and it’s not totally focused on Lake Powell 100 percent,” said Mary Plumb, public information officer for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Plumb said Aramark Corporation, the current concessionaire at Hite, declined to be part of the changes Glen Canyon hopes to make at Hite.
“Aramark has declined to be a part of the improved services there so that puts the park service in the position, because we do need to address the increased visitor use there at Hite, that we’re going to be making some on-the-ground improvements there at Hite,” Plumb said.
Those changes include renovations to the store, gas station, campgrounds and RV sites, Plumb said. Glen Canyon is looking at spending approximately $800,000 on the renovations, which they hope to complete by the next visitor season in the spring.
“What we have seen at Hite and Glen Canyon in general, everywhere up from Muley Point to Escalante to our front country area around Page, Ariz., is just an increase in land-based activities and we’ve seen that as a trend in the Hite area as well,” said William Shott, superintendent of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. “What we’d like to see there as far as required services, what this short-term contract would require is updating the store. Instead of providing goods there that might be useful for a houseboat trip, start to provide goods there that would be more suited toward adventures whether those are rafters, hikers, cyclists, canyoneers, et cetera, in addition to running the gas station … that’s the only gas station within ... a 126-mile stretch between Blanding and Hanksville, with gas and an RV campground with hookups so we think it’s imperative that that service continue.”
The new concessionaire may provide other services as well like guided canyoneering or hiking.
Plumb said a required Environmental Impact Statement and Environmental Assessment were completed several years ago, and the proposal for a new concessionaire is ready to move forward pending Department of Interior approval. Plumb emphasized that approval by Washington, D.C., is by no means guaranteed.
“If this goes forward … we’re looking at going out with a public announcement the first week in January,” Plumb said. “If this is approved, we’ll definitely do a really good job of getting the word out to all of the outfitters that this is an opportunity, if they want to bid for it … When the park service puts out any kind of request for proposal, it’s a very legal process so they definitely do everything by the book.”
After the concessionaire proposal was announced at several guide meetings, Plumb said, the response was positive. However, some guides expressed reservations.
“When first introduced, the new mission at Hite as land-based instead of a marina, I was curious over the lack of collaboration usually present during such an important change in direction,” said Brian Martinez of NAVTEC Expeditions. “I am concerned with the park’s current lack of funding to effectively manage a new land-based operation in such a sensitive area. The Orange Cliffs shares a boundary with the Maze District of Canyonlands. Due to its remoteness the area remains one of the wildest destinations in the United States. The significance and purpose of this area has largely been protected by a collaboration of external partners with shared values. I am not clear on Glen Canyon's off-road vehicle management plan in the Orange Cliffs, but I hope it doesn’t create conflict in such a fragile special place.”
Orange Cliffs is part of Glen Canyon but is managed by Canyonlands National Park.
Maggie Wilson, owner of Magpie Cycling, said that she is worried about the planned changes.
“I am deeply concerned about our local public lands administrators promoting changes in management plans and concession contracts that will put the resource at risk for exponential increase of irreversible damage,” Wilson said in an email to The Times-Independent. “It is not the responsibility of the National Park Service to stimulate local economies, or ensure the success of a concession operation.”
However, Pamela Rice, assistant superintendent for external affairs at Glen Canyon, said that it is hard to predict what effect changing the concessioner will have on Maze District visitation.
“As far as visitation in the Maze, I don’t think anyone can say what impact improved services at Hite will have on visitation to the Maze because you could actually make an argument that it would relieve some of the pressure in the Maze by providing ... different opportunities and essentially there’d be more space for visitors to spread out,” Rice said. “Currently, there is no ATV [use]; whether they’re street legal or not, ATVs are not allowed in the Orange Cliffs currently and anything that happens at Hite is not going to change that.”
At the same time, Glen Canyon is in the process of getting an off-road vehicle (ORV) management plan approved. Currently ATV usage is very limited in Glen Canyon. That could change slightly with a new ORV management plan. If the preferred alternative were approved, Glen Canyon would identify and designate “specific areas capable of supporting on-road ATV use and off-road use while prohibiting such uses in areas where resources and values may be at risk.”
According to the plan, 14 areas — Blue Notch, Bullfrog North and South, Copper Canyon, Crosby Canyon, Dirty Devil, Farley Canyon, Hite Boat Ramp, Neskahi, Nokai Canyon, Piute Canyon, Paiute Farms, Red Canyon, Stanton Creek and White Canyon — would remain open to conventional motor vehicles and street-legal ATVs, subject to water-level closures. Conventional motor vehicles, street-legal ATVs and OHVs, as defined by state law, would be allowed on unpaved roads including the Poison Spring Loop in the Orange Cliffs Management Unit. ATVs and OHVs would not be allowed on any other roads in the Orange Cliffs Management Unit.
A permit would be required for all off-road ATV use.
According to Plumb, the tentative ORV plan is waiting for review by the Department of Interior.
National Park Southeast Utah Group Superintendent Kate Cannon declined to comment on this story.