Well, I sent a letter (email) to a couple of people at American Whitewater, and a guy at NRS, regarding RAC. Unfortunately, I wrote the letter, so it both rambles and isn't particularly direct. On the good side, I didn't use the word "shit." On the other hand, I did bring up the specter of the "Red Menace." So will they take it seriously? Will they even read it? Never can tell. Here it is in it's entirety:
Is it possible for me to be serious for a significant length of time? It doesn't seem like it.
To the awesome whitewater powers that be:
I’m just a guy, but a guy who loves whitewater. As such, I appeal to you, the folk who have the ear of many in the whitewater world, in this time of great need.
Actually, the time of great need isn’t here as of yet, but owing to my fabulous foresight, I can predict that time coming, and coming fast.
I am referring to a matter of “river ethics,” that apparently isn’t generally discussed.
What I’m talking about is River Access Competence (RAC). Or “etiquette.” Or “courtesy.” Maybe “decorum.”
Whatever you want to call “it,” it is the way people represent themselves at river access points (put-ins and take-outs).
So why is there a need for this?
In the twenty years I’ve been whitewater boating, it seems to me that access point confrontations are cropping up with increasing frequency.
As our great sport becomes more and more popular, there will be more and more pressure put on these communal access points by more and more users.
These places can become quite chaotic when overloaded, sometimes leading to confrontations and even fist-fights. Typically these confrontations are caused by people getting in each other’s way.
If these kinds of problems become common, governmental agencies may feel obligated to intervene.
In my experience, governmental intervention typically has negative consequences. In this case, I know of two places where intervention has already occurred.
On the Clark Fork River, the Alberton Gorge reach is probably the single most popular day stretch of whitewater in Montana. There, the Forest Service has a ranger directing people at the Cyr Bridge put-in on high-traffic mornings and at the Tarkio take-out in the afternoons.
So far, this has not been a detriment to boaters, but how long will the Forest Service provide this service? At some point, I think they will want the service to fund itself, and that means user fees.
On the Deschutes River, the “Maupin” reach is probably the most popular day stretch of whitewater in Oregon. There, the county sheriff maintains a presence at the Sherar’s Falls take-out on heavy use days to keep the peace.
Someone has to pay for the government’s presence, and in the end it will be us. There is already a fee to use any part of the Lower Deschutes including the Maupin day stretch; I worry that will become the norm on many rivers in the future.
I’ve been to both rivers at times when these governmental representatives were very much needed. I do appreciate their presence. But I think with better RAC, they wouldn’t be necessary.
Fees like this certainly aren’t there only because of problems at access points, but there are two principles at work that need to be considered.
First, as a general rule, governmental entities will exercise power if they can: “the man” likes being in charge.
Second, generally, if there are no problems (access point or other), no notice will be taken, and we’ll be able to skate by under the bureaucratic radar without intervention from “the man.”
Access point problems are red-flags to the controlling agencies: high-profile examples for why we need more regulation. Good RAC gives them one less reason to notice us.
So what is “good” RAC?
In my opinion, good RAC can be achieved by following three simple principles. First, never block an access point. Second, if you have to block an access point, get out of the way as quickly as possible: do the vast majority of your rigging or de-rigging somewhere out of the way. Third, lend a hand and don’t be afraid to ask for help: generally, it will be appreciated.
I think if people followed those three rules, access point problems would be negligible.
For the most part, I think the people causing the problems at access points are not “bad” people: just people who don’t know any better.
As such, I think educating whitewater folk will go a long way towards keeping places like the Lower Deschutes the exception and not the rule.
What I’m proposing is nothing earth-shattering, or even particularly difficult. Simply including RAC guidelines in all discussions of river-ethics should be sufficient.
Perhaps I’m overly optimistic, but the vast majority of people I see on rivers practice good river-ethics: for instance, they wouldn’t consider dumping their empty beer cans in the river because they know not to.
But RAC isn’t thought of as a part of river-ethics, so for most people it isn’t even considered. They don’t know how to comport themselves at access points because there are no extant guidelines for RAC.
That’s where you guys come in.
You are in a leadership position in the whitewater world, and as such have influence over the common discourse. Make RAC an issue.
It is in all of our best interest to keep the government out of our business: poor RAC is just the sort of unnecessary issue that gives “the man” an excuse to keep us down, and make our sport less fun (and more expensive) than it should be.
I don’t want to sound like an anti-government activist, I’m not: I think the role of government in protecting its citizens and common resources, is unfortunately both necessary and important. But without a genuine need, we should endeavor to keep government at bay. Better RAC is one step towards that ideal, poor RAC forces a step towards a nanny-state. And who wants that? Commies, that’s who.