Ridin’ – and cleanin’ – on the river
by Emma Renly
The Times-Independent
Sep 27, 2018 | 395 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Self-proclaimed trash pirate Amir Najam rows the volunteers down the Moab Daily.    Photo by Alex De Moor
Self-proclaimed trash pirate Amir Najam rows the volunteers down the Moab Daily. Photo by Alex De Moor

The Moab Daily, a 13-mile rafting trip that offers breathtaking views of towering red rock canyons, starts at Hittle Bottom and ends at Takeout Beach. The section is one of the most popular on the Colorado River due to its ease of access, forgiving Class II-III rapids and white sandy beaches.

In 2017, the annual commercial use of the Moab Daily section reached 56,804 passengers on guided trips, nearly tying the record high the previous year of 56,929 commercial passengers, according to the Bureau of Land Management. Compared to 2007, the usage had increased nearly 50 percent in that decade. The BLM does not track private boaters’ usage of the Daily. Commercial use numbers have not yet been tallied for the current boating season.

Twenty river-specific outfitters have permits on the Moab Daily, ranging from Utah companies based in Moab and Salt Lake City to cities in Colorado, such as Durango and Gypsum. On Sept. 8, one of the 20 river outfitters, Canyonlands Field Institute, hosted a river cleanup on the heavily used section. Guides and volunteers rafted down the Colorado River to remove litter from popular beaches, campgrounds and sandbanks to help keep the ecosystem healthy.

“Our mission is to provide quality outdoor education on the Colorado Plateau, inspire care of wild places and renew the human spirit,” said Resford Rouzer, communications director at CFI. “In order to achieve this mission, we feel you can’t just go out and view the landscapes. You also need to give back. Even if that means putting on gloves and picking up trash.”

He added: “We try and do a couple of cleanup projects a year in different locations. We partner with BLM and Forest Service for cleanup on public lands whether it be at our field camp, on the river or along the highway.”

CFI hosted a similar river cleanup event on Earth Day in April. Alex De Moor, a lead river guide at CFI, said the event was touching. “It was nice to realize how many people in the community genuinely care about the river,” said De Moor. “It’s incredible how much trash we actually pulled out, but not much of it was on the beaches we actually go to. We only found micro trash on the beaches, like cigarette butts.”

De Moor noted that popular camping beaches, such as Onion Creek, were virtually spotless and most of the trash was found caught in debris piles in the river.

“Our boating principles, at CFI in particular, are diligent about leave-no-trace ethics and not just on the beach,” De Moor said. “One thing that CFI does that most other boaters don’t is that we don’t dump the chum into the river. Every scrap of food we bring to the river is packed out. We even run our dishwater through the strainer to keep the food scraps in our trash.”

Other guides echoed De Moor’s sentiments. Amir Najam, a river guide at CFI since May, was previously a ranger at Grand Canyon National Park for nearly five years. There, he found a passion for the outdoors. “I think most people who are committed to the outdoor lifestyle have the idea of leave no trace at the forefront of their mind. The goal is to leave places a little cleaner than how you found it,” Najam said. However, “People often manipulate the landscape – it’s a huge part of leave no trace that people forget about.” He added that landscape manipulation includes creating cairns or etching names into rocks.

“Of all the different activities I’ve done, being on the river is the farthest you can get from society. The rivers are pretty pure. Personally, I don’t want to be around other signs of humans,” Najam said. “On the river we’re getting away from it all, so pack-it-in, pack-it-out.” When a trip includes kids, Najam said the guides bribe them with cookies to find all the trash on the beach. Najam encourages everyone to care for the river every time they use it, not just for a particular cleanup event. “I consider myself a trash pirate on the river; I’m always eddying out along the river to grab river booty,” he joked. “It’s fun and we’re collecting a little museum of interesting trash pieces we find along the river.”

Najam was enthusiastic to be one of the CFI guides at the event. “It’s exciting to show people the spots I hold dear to my heart,” he said. “The land is theirs to enjoy. It’s nice to share and contribute to this culture of keeping our public lands clean.“

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