John Day Wild and Scenic River moves to Recreation.gov
This month, I wanted to let you all know that on March 4, 2020, the John Day River permit system will officially go live on Recreation.gov, the federal government's recreation reservation system. You'll need to get one of these permits in order to float the Wild and Scenic sections of the river during the summer peak season, which runs from May 1 – July 15. The permit is $20 for a group of up to 16 people for overnight trips and is $10 per group of up to 16 for day trips. As a Recreation.gov user, you'll have to pay a $6 transaction fee per permit to get a permit on the site.
Moving to Recreation.gov allows us to implement the limited use system we approved through a public process several years ago and allows us to separate use not only by day but also by location. When the system is up and running in a few weeks, we will allow nine total launches per day from Muleshoe or Service Creek, five launches per day from Clarno, five launches per day from Thirtymile, and 10 total launches per day from Twickenham, Priest Hole or Lower Burnt Ranch.
For those of you familiar with the river, the short day trip you can take completely within the Priest Hole Recreation site (a distance of about a mile), remains free, and you can get a self-issue permit on-site. You also won't need a permit to float the quarter-mile at Cottonwood Canyon State Park between J.S. Burres (Cottonwood Bridge) and Lone Tree Campground.
You can start to get ready for this move now by creating an account on www.recreation.gov if you don't already have one. This way, you'll save time when you want to go online and get a permit. Once you have your account, you can use Recreation.gov to make reservations for much more than the John Day River – you can make reservations for camping, day use, tours, and activities around the country. You may already have an account if you've used the website to get your boater pass for the Lower Deschutes River. You can even put in for lotteries on high-demand rivers such as the Salmon River in Idaho or the Rogue River here in Oregon. If you're not sure what you want to do, Recreation.gov allows you to explore destinations and activities around the United States.
You can keep your customer account on the current John Day River permit website because we still require no cost permits in segments and time periods that are not limited. You can find information about the John Day and permits at www.blm.gov/or/permit. This site also contains maps of the various segments of the river, information about wildfire safety and our annual fire restrictions (June 1 – Sept. 30), water flows and various boating regulations.
We decided in 2012 to offer a limited number of permits during the busiest time of the float season to help us provide the more secluded experience that boaters on the John Day Wild and Scenic River want, and to protect the values that made the river Wild and Scenic in the first place. Since then, we've heard from many of you that it seemed like the river was getting busier and that it was harder to find that solitude. We don't have a lot of boat-in campsites along many of the wild and scenic stretches, and we heard from visitors that they couldn't find a site and had to float through the night. We know from our data that while use varies according to water levels, we've seen some of our highest numbers in the past couple of years, from 3,500 boaters in 2014 to 6,700 in 2019. These permits will not only help protect the John Day River but will also help boaters avoid running into each other and competing for campsites.
When you get a permit for the John Day River, please know that the funds come back to the Prineville District to be used back out on the river. We even get a small portion of the transaction fee that you pay to Recreation.gov. We don't collect a lot of money on the John Day; generally, it ranges $10,000-20,000 per year, and the fees help pay for things like dumpsters at Clarno, portable toilets at Thirtymile, river ranger patrols and user education. With any luck, you'll get a chance to get out and boat the second-longest free-flowing river in the United States and the longest undammed tributary of the Columbia River this year. And if you get your permit for that period between May 1 and July 15, I hope you get to enjoy a little more solitude as you float through memorable scenery, catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep up in the basalt cliffs, and experience the natural and scenic values of this river.
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