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Rock Removal

Rock Removal;

Long Family – Cascade Raft and Kayak

There has been some heated debate over the last few days regarding a permit that was issued for the removal of a rock on the rapid Staircase on the South fork of the Payette River.  The reactions have ranged from genuine concern for river safety to personal attacks of character.  A lot of this reaction has been formed without all of the information at hand, and hopefully we can clear some of that up.

In 2001 a MASSIVE mudslide completely wiped out the rapid known as Staircase.  A dam was created and the damage was so extensive that the road to Garden Valley was cut off.

In an effort to reopen the road, the Army Corp of Engineers drudged the riverbed, placing boulders roughly where they thought they were before the slide.

In 2007, guide Dean Fairburn lost his life on the rock in question, entrapped in a sieve that was formed when the rock was placed there.  Since then it has been a very common wrap spot, with at least one additional body entrapment that we are aware of.  Cascade Raft guides and support staff aided in the removal of 8 wrapped private boats over the 2010 season, clearly this placed rock is a hazard to ALL river users.

Our concern is that there is a man enhanced feature on a rapid that is a clear hazard to all river users that has already claimed the life of one person.  In this spirit we looked into removal of the rock.  We applied for a permit, following the standard protocol set out by the State, contacted a crane operator to see if such a feat was even possible, and waited.  With no intention of actually removing anything we continued to pursue this goal.   We have followed all the rules and laws set out before us in investigating the manipulation of this rock.  If our intentions were to remove the rock with out public comment, then we would have moved it while we had the permit before the public had a chance to comment.  But that was not our goal, which gets us here, to public comment.  Unfortunately some of the comments have been not directed at what rock, why, and when, but attacking a specific person and company.

The facts out there for public comment are:

  • There is a rock that is in channel was placed by man,
  • That same rock has become a frequent wrapping spot for private and commercial rafters
  • That rock has claimed the life of one person and entrapped another that was lucky and able to free himself
  • With the water as low as it is this year and Deadwood is off, there is a chance to remove the rock in a safe and controlled manner.

If this is something that seems to be a good idea and the river community supports it, the Long Family is happy to continue to move forward in the removal of the rock in question.

If it does not have the river community support, at least our conscience will be clear if someone else looses their life there.

A public forum has been scheduled at 7 p.m. Oct. 11 at Cascade Outfitters/Maravia, 604 E. 45th St., Garden City.

It seems strange to me that we all support the alteration of the steam bed to make water parks, and in some cases even compete diversion of a river, but an effort to remove a rock that has is a clear unnatural hazard is unthinkable.  Kelly’s Whitewater park runs on the NF of the Payette, they dramatically altered the river, and have plans to alter the river again, but there is no condemnation or outpouring of sentiment.  So do we as the boating community support altering the stream bed only when it improves our play waves and not when it can save lives?

We appreciate the community’s involvement in the river!

Tren Long

16 Comments

  1. On October 1, 2010 @ 10:40 pm Phil Palmiotto said

    As a private boater and a member of the GVFD Swiftwater Rescue team, I have been deeply concerned about the rock hazard in Staicase rapid. Throughout the past 20 years, this section of the south fork has been changed by both natural and man-made means. Unlike in the past when the river was changed by natural high water, this last man made change further restricted the channel with no clear line. Boaters without knowledge of the route changes at different water levels are often hung up in this spot. Furthermore, the rock in question forms an uncommon and very dangerous entrapment spot for a swimmer. Although I am usually not an advocate of altering the river, This safety hazard should be mitigated before any more injuries or deaths take place there.

  2. On October 3, 2010 @ 7:42 pm Kim Tanabe said

    As a GV resident, I am well aware of the changes in the South Fork in recent years, and the issues that have been raised in our community by these changes. As a frequent paddler and occasional swimmer of this stretch of river, I respect it’s power and beauty and am VERY hesitant to freely condone its alteration. HOWEVER I am in full support of the Long’s concern, knowledge, and ability to maintain the character of the river we love while protecting river users from unnecessary hazards, and I thank them for their efforts.

  3. On October 5, 2010 @ 9:50 am Kenny Bramwell said

    As a journeyman paddler and as an emergency physician, I am very aware of the rock in question and the hazards it presents. I have taken care of patients who have nearly drowned, who have dislocated their shoulders, and who have decided to never go on the river again due to misadventures on this boulder. While I understand the arguments behind leaving the rock in place, I strongly support the movement of this rock for the safety of us all.

  4. On October 5, 2010 @ 9:56 am Reed Hollingshead said

    As a boater and supporter of safe boating. I use the SF of the Payetter frequently and have paddled the staircase rapid numerous times, it can be very intimidating and demands the utmost respect from all whole venture down it. I’ve worked and played with all of the Long’s and their attention to river safety is always first & foremost on their minds. The fact that they’ve gone out of their way to do the proper due diligence with respect to the hazard they mention speaks to their level of commitment on river safety. They’ve been in the valley for years promoting and instructing safe boating. Why anyone would question the removal of one rock that has already claimed a life is beyond me. If the rock were removed today, by the time spring run off happens, I doubt anyone would ever miss it. If by removing the rock it saves one life or the fact no one has to risk their life to remove a wrapped boat in that area should receive everyone’s support. I definitely support thier proposed plan.

  5. On October 5, 2010 @ 12:46 pm Jeff Rutland said

    What Payette river sections have not been altered by man? The Cabarton? No. The NF Class V? No. The SF Canyon? No. The Main? No. The SF Staircase? No.

    They have all been altered by road and railway construction. I have often wondered what these rivers were like prior to alteration. It’s a great question for a historian, but the fact is, we’re not talking about pristine wilderness here.

    If there is a significant hazard and it’s possible to remove it, I think it should be done. I applaud the Longs for offering to sponsor the removal and giving a public forum for this conversation.

  6. On October 5, 2010 @ 2:19 pm YakYakYak said

    [...] There has been some heated debate over the last few days regarding a permit that was issued for the removal of a rock on the rapid Staircase on the South fork of the Payette River.  More…. [...]

  7. On October 5, 2010 @ 2:26 pm rich mcfadden said

    I was at Staircase just after the hillside came pouring down in 2002. Mud piled up across the river just four feet short of south side, which created a high velocity sluice box of water. We boated the chasm chute knowing full well the danger below from tree trunks and branches standing up like a forest maze. In 2003 we witnessed a drowning caused by unprepared boaters through Staircase. It wasn’t the rock in question that caused her death, but the lack of respect for the river by three ill prepared girls. Shall we regulate who can boat rivers based on their experience? Just as soon as a rapid is artificially altered, someone will find a way to hurt or kill themselves in the altered formation. Don’t forget that the next mudslide will also ‘re-alter’ the alteration. I’m opposed to Cascades plan, and hope the community that will assemble in GV will oppose it as well. I’m from Colorado and boat the Payette every year as a treat, so the ‘community’ might be quite larger than you think.

  8. On October 5, 2010 @ 8:13 pm Josh McDannel said

    Reed,
    You say “Why anyone would question the removal of one rock that has already claimed a life is beyond me.”

    Does that mean you support the removal of any rock or hazard that has claimed a life and caused other injuries or near-death accidents? I strongly oppose that view.

    I would miss that rock.

  9. On October 5, 2010 @ 9:29 pm admin said

    I would not propose speaking for Reed but,
    Again this is not a rock that was naturally there, it was placed there by a GREAT big ole chuck of heavy machinery. That man enhanced rock has not only claimed one life, but has but dozens upon dozens of people in danger during wraps, pins, and entrapments. If the opposition is to altering things in the river bed, then why no stink when the FS removed the log at the bottom of big falls, or the log at the top of oxbow, or the log in screaming left, or the log in hounds tooth? No one was up in arms when those rapids were made “safer” by man. It seems to me that if your principals are against altering a stream bed, that is great, I fully can understand that point of view, but you can not change your principals for different elements (i.e. logs, playparks, ect). We all have our predispositions and views, but at least we should be consistent dont you think?

  10. On October 5, 2010 @ 10:08 pm admin said

    Hi Rich,
    The community from all over the west has been in contact with us, and as you can see from the posts a bunch from GV!

  11. On October 6, 2010 @ 1:02 pm dan welch said

    all sports have inherit risks. boating, skiing, mountain biking, rock rockclimbing, base jumping…..ect. All of these sports carry with them the understanding that they are dangerous due to known and unknown hazards.

    What is disturbing about this issue is the fact that it sets a precedent for future permits and decision. It is a legal issue and should be treated as such.
    Even though our playgrounds (rivers and mountains alike) have been altered by man, they are still wild beings and we need to respect this fact.
    I am sorry for the loss of Dean Fairburn on staircase, but also for the loss of shane mcconkey base jumping and craig kelly snowboarding….ect ect ect.

    leave the “wild” “man-made” environments of the rivers and mountains alone….we thrive on the fact that extremes exist…. homogeneity is death for these places.

  12. On October 7, 2010 @ 8:51 am LJ said

    Which rock is it? If it’s the one at the bottom of Staircase on river right, I spent quite some time being windowshaded in the back wash. Please advise?

  13. On October 10, 2010 @ 10:21 am devin hawkins said

    As a new boater to this state and area(Valley County) I trust the decision that will be made will be in the best interests of all boaters. With that said I don’t believe anyone should use the reasoning that if someone else is allowed to move a rock why can’t we…..since it is a man-placed rock in an already man-altered section the outcome of the rapid will probably not be sufficiently downgraded by any sizable amount. Why not just blow it up and let the river take care of the rest. Shoot we could have a big ol’ farewell BBQ/Bonfire for the lill’ guy! ; )

    ps. its not like the Army Corps of Engineers has never made a mistake.

  14. On October 12, 2010 @ 7:01 pm devin hawkins said

    i said the last ps. in all due respect, and should have put “….made a mistake while building ‘safe whitewater rapids in a ever changing environment’.”

  15. On October 14, 2010 @ 8:25 am Jed Miller said

    Do you get my sarcasm? Hey would could just install a rail system down the SF Payette to keep boats upright, people in the boats and the boats away from all danger. The road here is also dangerous so it should be lined with concrete walls and a centerline barrier to help prevent all accidents. We must do all we can to prevent any accident or death. While we are at it we can make people hire “safety companions” to follow them around all day long to ensure they don’t do anything stupid, carless or ignorant that could result in an accident or death. If we save even one life it will be worth it! End of sarcasm. Geeze people do you realize the principle you are promoting by wanting to remove or re-situate this rock? Saving one life or ten lives or a thousand lives is meaningless if by doing so we give up the right to enjoy life. One small step at a time is how you give up the things you love and in the beginning it seemed like the thing to do, but by the end you realize how flawed your thinking was. Leave the rock alone!

  16. On November 1, 2010 @ 7:12 pm Brian Martin said

    I am for removing or altering the rock in Staircase, if it means that the run will be safer. I know the exact rock you are talking about and have seen the negative outcome it can cause by going into the rapid incorrectly. And the above comment about enjoying life. Sarcasm start, hey why don’t we just all get wasted before we run the section too, then we can run the river without helmets and lifejackets because it is not a natural part of our body. End sarcasm. I have been rafting rivers all over the world for 25 years, and bringing more safety to any river or rapid is very welcome. It is not altering the class of the rapid, it is not altering the route you should take when running the rapid. It is taking the incorrect route of the rapid that many first timers take and making it so they can come home to their families and enjoy the river another day. Take it out!