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Appendix IV. River Etiquette

Appendix IV. River Running Etiquette

Boaters' watchwords should be safety first, minimum impact on the environment, and courteous relations with others on and around the rivers. For our comments on safety, see the Introduction and How to Use This Guide. In this section we address the other two issues.

River running is potentially one of the outdoor sports with the lowest impact on the environment. Water craft can pass through wild lands leaving only a ripple on the water, and careful boaters can leave nothing but their footprints.

On the other hand, river runners always follow the same routes through the countryside, so the effects of their journeys are concentrated and intensified within the narrow river corridors. Even seemingly minor individual actions, when multiplied by the growing number of boaters in the last couple of decades, can have damaging cumulative effects.

There are practical reasons for minimizing our impact on the river environment. We would all like to see as much wildlife and as little trash as possible, and we would like to enjoy the best possible relations with other users of the river corridor. The reverse of the coin is that nothing will lead more quickly to restrictions on boating than abuse of the land, the wildlife, or other river users.

There are also ethical reasons. Rivers are not theme parks, and they are much more than roller coaster rides. These delicate ecosystems are ribbons of life in the natural fabric of our country. They deserve our respect and care -- not only for the joy they bring us, but also because they are such a vital part of our environment. Minimum-Impact River Running
Pride in caring for the river should be one of the real pleasures of a float trip. Even if it means a little extra effort, every boater should help to maintain the river environment in as pristine a condition as possible. Here are some guidelines:

  • Leave Nothing Behind: Pack out all garbage. If fires are permitted in the river corridor, paper and burnables (not plastic) can be burned, but the ashes should be packed out (see Campfires below). Before leaving, make a sweep through your entire camp. Keep a trash bag handy during the day to collect your own litter as well as that left by others, whether thoughtlessly or accidentally. Leave the river canyon cleaner than you found it.
  • Make Campfires with Care: Use a fire pan. Don't build fire rings. Best is a fire pan with legs, so the pan itself doesn't touch the ground. If the pan is going to touch the ground, before you place it on soil, dig up an inch or two of topsoil (if any), set it aside, and replace it when you break camp. Alternatively -- or in addition -- set a fire blanket under the pan to insulate the soil. Otherwise, the heat will kill plants and microscopic life and leave the soil sterile.

    If collecting firewood is permitted, be sure to gather only driftwood and "dead and down" wood. Standing dead wood, snags, and dead limbs are part of the canyon setting; leave them alone. When you break camp, scatter any unused firewood to leave the site in a more natural state. If the ground under the fire pan is still hot when you pack the pan away, mark the site with sticks to make sure no bare feet get burned accidentally.

    Keep a close eye on your fire, and have sand, shovel, and water nearby. Make sure the fire is completely extinguished. Carry out charcoal and partially burned wood as you would garbage. A benefit of "ash in the trash" is that it absorbs garbage odors on long trips.

  • Dispose of Human Waste Properly: If possible -- and it usually is -- carry all solid human waste (feces) out of the river canyon. This is a requirement on some rivers. It is highly desirable on most, whether it is required or not. Many river canyons have little or no topsoil near the river, and feces does not decompose in sand, so burying human waste is not usually recommended. If you have no other choice, and if suitable soil is available, make sure your latrine is at least 8" deep, 100' from any side streams, and well above the river's high-water line. Toilet paper should be packed out or burned in the campfire.

    For many years, river runners carried human waste in watertight ammo cans lined with plastic and doused with lime or some other deodorant. However, legally disposing of these bags is now more or less impossible. As requirements grow more stringent, new technologies are coming into play on some rivers. Among the developments are "scat machines" - clean unlined ammo boxes and portable toilets that can be emptied at RV dump stations. Be sure you know what is required when you plan your next trip.

  • Be Careful with Soap: Use biodegradable, phosphate-free soap to wash yourself and your dishes at least 100' from the river and any side streams. Pour dirty dishwater through a strainer into a hole dug at a site away from campsites. Put the food particles caught in the strainer into the trash.
  • Keep Wildlife in Mind: Dozens of species dwell in the critical riparian zone, and others come to the river to drink, hunt, and/or breed. Making noise or approaching too closely to observe wildlife or snap a photo can disturb nesting birds and other animals. Some nesting birds will even abandon their nests if frightened. A pair of binoculars or a telephoto lens will give you a front-row view from a respectful distance. Please respect closures of sensitive sites, and keep your noise down when you pass them. Choose camps and lunch stops with the needs of wildlife in mind.

    In camp maintain a clean and secure kitchen. Food and garbage attract animals, who then associate people with food, hang around the campsites, and become "repeat offenders." Animals who become dependent on people for food may starve in winter when boaters no longer come by. What's more, animals such as skunks and especially bears can be most unwel come midnight visitors. (See the footnote about bears in the Rogue chapter in Region VI.)

  • Respect Historical Sites: Pictographs, petroglyphs, artifacts, and dwellings of earlier inhabitants are an irreplaceable part of the river's history. Please be careful when you explore these sites. Leave everything in its place
  • Limit Groups to a Moderate Size: Smaller groups have less impact -- both on the environment and on the wilderness experience of other boaters.
  • Use Extra Care at Fragile or Heavily-Used Sites: River access points, popular campsites, favorite side hikes, legendary hot springs -- all of these get intensive use, so more effort is necessary to keep them clean and healthy.
Respecting Other River Users
Rivers attract a wide variety of people: boaters, fishermen, campers, hikers, swimmers, serious prospectors and amateur gold-panners, photographers, sunbathers, and others. All of them have the right to privacy, quiet, and solitude; please respect that right.
  • Other Boaters: Make room for others at heavily-used river access points. At busy put-ins and take-outs, load and unload right away and move your boats and vehicles out of the way as quickly as possible.

    Choose campsites and lunch spots well away from where others have stopped. Friendly discussion of upcoming campsites with other boating parties can avoid conflicts later in the day.

    When your group is following another party, give them plenty of room when they head into rapids; this is a matter of safety as well as courtesy. If you want to pass them, do so in a smooth stretch of water if possible. If another group needs to pass you, try to pull over or even eddy out to let them by.

    Boaters playing a wave should yield to others coming downstream. Don't be a "hole hog."

  • Anglers: When approaching a fisherman, try to hold back and ask where to pass. Use and look for hand signals rather than talking. If in doubt, stay to the far side of the channel and move through as smoothly and quietly as possible, keeping oar or paddle splashes to a minimum. If an angler has hooked a fish, try to wait upstream until the fish has been landed.

    Quiet can be important to a fisherman, so let the angler decide whether to talk. A friendly wave and smile make a sufficient greeting.

  • Campers: At river access points, do not park in campsites. Walk around, not through, occupied campsites.
  • Private Property: Respect property rights. Keep noise to a minimum when riverside homes are nearby. Always ask permission if you want to use private land for river access or camping.

    Excerpted from Western Whitewater from the Rockies to the Pacific
    Copyright 1994 Jim Cassady, Bill Cross, and Fryar Calhoun. Reproduced in cooperation with Fryar Calhoun.


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