Arizona’s Havasupai Falls have been closed to tourists since March 16 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and the Havasupai Tribe issued another statement to potential visitors last week: Rafters may not enter tribal land or approach the waterfalls from the Colorado River either.
Backpackers and campers who visit the famous falls enter from the top of the canyon, hiking 8 miles down to the town of Supai and then several miles more to reach to the turquoise falls. River rafters hike up to the falls from the Colorado River.
Tribe chairwoman Evangeline Kissoon said in a statement released June 22: “Notice is hereby given that the Havasupai Reservation, including the Havasupai Tribe’s Traditional Use Lands, are closed to Grand Canyon river guides and tourists.”
There are no COVID-19 cases on the Havasupai Reservation and the tribe is on “strict lockdown protocol” to prevent the spread of disease.
'Boats cannot dock at the confluence'
Because of the pandemic, commercial and private rafting trips through the Grand Canyon were halted until June 14. The confluence of the Colorado River and Havasu Creek is a popular spot for boats to dock on the journey so rafters can hike up to Beaver Falls, about 4 miles from the Colorado River where the official boundary of the Havasupai Reservation starts.
In her statement Kissoon said that "river boats cannot dock at the confluence" of the Colorado River and Havasu Creek, which is technically managed by the National Park Service but considered a permanent traditional use area by the tribe.
The statement generated some controversy on social media among river runners who pointed out that Beaver Falls is about 6 miles away from Supai, but most rafters understand that tribe members want to protect themselves from COVID-19, said Tom Martin, a Flagstaff, Arizona, resident who is a moderator of the Facebook group Rafting Grand Canyon and long-time river runner.
“To tell river runners we don’t even want you stopping here, it makes perfect sense. I absolutely get it,” Martin said. “What they’re asking for is a buffer around the reservation that includes their traditional use land.”
Grand Canyon's guidance contradicts the tribe's
On June 23, Jan Balsom, senior adviser for stewardship and tribal programs at Grand Canyon National Park, sent an email to river guides and permit holders clarifying the park’s position.
She wrote that the park's leadership talked with Kissoon about the tribe’s notice and Kissoon asked park managers to convey that “the tribe has stationed law enforcement rangers at the boundary between the reservation and the park, and will strictly enforce any attempts to violate the closure order by accessing the reservation.”
But contrary to the notice from the tribe, Balsom wrote that “day use of the portion of Havasu Creek within the park, from the confluence of the Colorado River to Beaver Falls, is allowed.”
Martin supports the tribe’s wishes and hope visitors follow the requests.
“I greatly admire the tribe for saying: 'We’re closed. We don’t want to make it work for outsiders because we don’t want to die',” Martin said.
Reach the reporter at Shaena.Montanari@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @DrShaena.
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