The Verde Ranger Program was funded $5,000. In April of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought “stay at home” proclamations all over Arizona. When the proclamations were implemented, Clarkdale’s two river parks saw recreational boating skyrocket, since outdoor recreation had almost no restrictions. Even today, kayaks and kayaking gear are extremely hard to find. Because so many new boaters have adopted the pastime recently, we expect the heavy use to continue even after restrictions are lifted. Normal use of 30-50 boats/day between the two RAPs has increased to 50-150 on weekends. Since March, observers have confirmed that most of the new recreational boaters are new to kayaking and especially are new to boating on rivers, and even more are new to this stretch. The impacts of this new use have grown tremendously. Data shows that 64% of the boaters on this stretch are not equipped with or using a PFD, a violation of state law. Often children ride in a boat or on a parent’s paddle board without a PFD. This issue has been mitigated to an extent by our cooperation with AZ Game and Fish Department and the Town of Clarkdale to install loaner PFD kiosks at both RAPs. But the new use is greater than the kiosks can accommodate.
Having made these observations, the Verde River Institute met with other outfitters and the Town of Clarkdale to decide what could be done to address these new challenges without discouraging the new recreational use, which we all felt was important to building a river constituency. The Verde River Institute suggested that we create a new program of river rangers that would boat the river between TapcoRAP and TuziRAP, mostly on the weekends, and engage boaters about PFD use, properly securing boat contents, how to negotiate the rapids, and general river etiquette, safety, and environmental stewardship. At the same time, the rangers would pick up riverside and river bottom trash, offer assistance to boaters who need it, and attend to the occasional need for first aid.