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House panel OKs lifting ban on paddling Yellowstone streams

PARKS — The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee voted today to approve a controversial measure that would lift longstanding restrictions and allow kayaks, rafts and other “hand-propelled” vessels to be used on hundreds of miles of rivers and streams in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

The Associated Press reports that the committee passed the measure from Wyoming Republican U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis on a vote of 23 to 15, sending the bill to the full House.

Conservation and angling groups opposed the changes. They said existing restrictions preserve the solitude and wildness of the parks’ waterways, while still allowing boats on many lakes and some rivers. For example, paddlers have always been able to float the Lewis River, which allows boat access to Shoshone Lake, but the Yellowstone and Firehole rivers are off limits to vessels.

In response to those concerns, committee members approved an amendment that Lummis says would reduce the number of miles of streams and rivers that would have to be analyzed for future use by paddlers.

“This would reduce by over 90 percent the amount of analysis and the river miles that would be subject to being analyzed for allowing kayaking in the park,” Lummis said.

But the National Parks Conservation Association said park officials still would have to analyze some 6,500 miles of waterways.

“We hope that Congress will not move this problematic legislation forward,” said Stephanie Adams, Yellowstone program manager for the conservation group. She warned of “far-reaching, negative impacts” on parks that are “two of our country’s crown jewels.”

Thousands of paddlers annually already visit areas in Yellowstone and Grand Teton where non-motorized vessels are not banned, officials said. That includes 60,000 paddlers each year using the Snake River through Grand Teton, and more than 2,000 permits a year for non-motorized boating in Yellowstone, according to prior testimony from U.S. Interior Department officials.

Lummis’ amendment would exclude the use of inner-tubes and other unconventional watercraft. The bill also calls for federal officials to coordinate the recreational use of hand-propelled vessels on the Gros Ventre River within the National Elk Refuge.

An earlier attempt by Lummis to lift restrictions on watercraft in the two parks was approved last year by the full House but not the Senate.

National Park Service officials said at the time that the bill would prevent park administrators from using their professional judgment to decide where vessels should be allowed.

Park officials could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.

Paddling Yellowstone Rivers bill a sham from a scourge

PUBLIC LANDS — Paddling the idyllic streams in Yellowstone National Park would be a treat. 

Laws have prohibited boats on most of the waters to adhere to the park's mission of protecting the fragile ecosystems and offering refuge to the wildlife away from the roads that handle millions of visitors.

So how should paddlers and other conservation-minded park visitors stand on Rep. Cynthia Lummis's proposals to force the Park Service to organize programs that would allow canoes, kayaks and rafts on more Yellowstone waters?

Firmly against — for more reasons than one.  Check out this commentary by Todd Wilkinson in the Jackson Hole News & Guide:

NPS can't afford cost of adding paddling to Yellowstone Park waters
Wyoming U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis paints herself as a fiscal conservative, which is hard to reconcile with her bill to allow paddling on the waters in Yellowstone National Park. The measure is expected to add $4 million to the park's already considerable costs in the first five years alone. Is she a friend to the outdoor community, or a foe?  Look at her record.

Canoeist takes ballet to the water

PADDLING — A video of a man's canoe ballet is a peaceful end of the week and a reminder of what a little practice with a paddle can accomplish.

The video is from the 2007 Mid-West Freestyle Canoe competition.

American Freestyle canoeing is the art of paddling a canoe on flat water with perfect control of its movements. The canoe is usually leaned over to the side to help the boat turn sharply and efficiently and paddle strokes are taken on either side of the canoe depending on the individual move. Balance, paddle placement and turn initiation are a few keys to this control. Since the movements seem dance-like, some practice this art timed to music, which is the ultimate in control.

Paddling law would be bad news for national parks

PUBLIC LANDS — I've made a few classic canoe and kayak trips in Yellowstone National Park over the years, including the Lewis River to Shoshone Lake (see photo) and on Yellowstone Lake.

But even though I'm a long-time paddler and co-author of the guidebook, Paddling Washington, I can still clearly see a reason to restrict paddling in national parks, where the priority is on preserving natural ecosystems. 

It's shocking to see that a Wyoming Congreswoman has introduced a bill that would REQUIRE Yellowstone and Grand Teton national park officials to allow more paddling in the parks. 

Here's the scoop from High Country News and a person who knows and write's eloquently on the potential ramifications of the legislation.  Check it out.

Called the “River Paddling Protection Act,” the bill has already passed the House of Representatives. It gives the National Park Service three years to change its regulations barring non-motorized boating on rivers and streams. If the agency fails to act in that time, then boating in the two parks will be considered unregulated.

Drowning Victim ID’d As Spirit Lake Man

Michael W. Blankartz, 28, of Spirit Lake, has been identified as the victim of the Spokane River drowning this morning near Corbin Park in Post Falls. Blankartz and Danny J. Richison, 29, of Post Falls had put a canoe in the water at the East end of Corbin Park in an attempt to float to the old Pleasant View Bridge area. Shortly after pushing out from shore, the canoe flipped, tossing both men from the canoe. Richison reported that he was able to hang on to the canoe for a short period of time and get back to shore. He last saw his friend floating in the river just below the first set of rapids. The victim’s body was recovered in 4 feet of water, about 1 mile downstream from Corbin Park, by KCSD Dive Team/Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department news release.