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Want To Raft Through The Grand Canyon? Not During The Shutdown


Scott Lee can look down the limestone cliffs and see the Colorado River cutting through the Grand Canyon. But what's maddening is he can't get on the river. Today, Lee was planning to get in a raft and launch a 20-day trip down the Colorado. But his group of 16, including his 13-year-old son, whom he pulled out of school in New Hampshire for this trip of a lifetime, can't get started.

The government shutdown has closed all 401 national parks, including the Grand Canyon. Permits to float through the canyon are notoriously hard to come by. Lee says he'd been trying to get one for at least 10 years. He talked to us earlier today not far from the barricade that now stands between him and his vacation.

SCOTT LEE: The planning for a Grand Canyon river trip is extensive. Not only is it the logistics of gear and boats and food and who's going to go on the trip, but it's the logistics of pulling your kids out of school and how you're going to deal with your job and, you know, how you're going to deal with your house and your pets and everything else that gets involved with, you know, 20 days away from home.

BLOCK: And how much expense is wrapped up in this trip?

LEE: Oh, you know, I mean, I think I've been able to calculate that the 16 of us, just in fees and rental gear and some flights, at a minimum, $30,000 so far.

BLOCK: Well, your group was supposed to be putting in on the Colorado River today. What happened?

LEE: So the national park system has closed and they closed the gates to all the parks. And so, right now, at the entrance to Lee's Ferry, there are park rangers at the gate with a temporary blockade up, that they put up yesterday, keeping American citizens and many other patrons of the park out of the park. So they are not letting us go to the put-in of the river or to the river level to rig our boats and be on our way.

Now, keep in mind, once they let us go down the river, they don't have to deal with us anymore. So all they have to do is let us drive down to the river, but they won't do that.

BLOCK: We should explain, Mr. Lee, that there's no other way for you to get to the river with your boats, right? You have to go through this entrance point.

LEE: That's correct. There's no other way to get to the river. The road of Lee's Ferry goes down to the river level. And we have a lot of boats and we have a lot of equipment, as you can imagine, for 20 days. You know, this is the way we have to go.

BLOCK: So when you got to the entrance to where you need to go put in on the river, what did you hear, what did they tell you?

LEE: There is just a barricade and rangers with guns and they said, sorry, the federal government is closed. We have no more information, but you are not going past this entrance. They won't tell us what the future holds. They won't tell us what's going to happen with our permit. We had prepaid $2,000 to the National Park Service for this permit.

They haven't told us if we're going to get our money back.

BLOCK: You know, it's possible, Mr. Lee, that the rangers just don't know the answers to those questions that you have, right? They're not making the rules.

LEE: No doubt. These rangers here are just doing their job. They're nice people, you know, they're affected by this like everybody else.

BLOCK: We mentioned that you pulled your 13-year-old son out of school to take this trip. Is this a teachable moment in any way? What are you talking about with him?

LEE: Yeah. You know, we're talking about all kinds of things. I think the first thing is patience. But we're also talking about the government. We're talking a lot about the government and how the government runs and how the government's funded and how the government is represented. And in many of our opinions, how the government is not working right now.

You know, certainly the kids are very, very disappointed right now. Will it be a learning experience? I hope so. What we're all going to learn, I'm not sure yet. That's still to be determined.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Lee, best of luck to you. Thanks for talking with us.

LEE: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

BLOCK: That was Scott Lee of Conway, New Hampshire. He and his son were supposed to begin a 20-day river trip through the Grand Canyon today, but because of the government shutdown, they're camping out in a nearby parking lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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