Devils River Update (long post)

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Devils River Update (long post)

Post by rivergeek » Mon Oct 03, 2011 10:23 pm

Cross posted to GRTU Forum by Richard Grayson, DRWG member, Paddler/Angler, GRTU member.
Hopefully this long post will answer any question you might think of, altho Mark did not get into some specifics of the C&R discussions. If not, fire away...
Rich Grayson

-----Original Message-----
From: []
On Behalf Of Mark Boyden
Sent: Sunday, October 02, 2011 10:58 PM
To: CanoeTX
Subject: [CanoeTX] Devils River - Update on Current/Future Changes

As I posted a few months back, there is a Devils River Working Group
(DRWG) put together by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD)
charged to advise on how TPWD will function related to providing
paddle-sports opportunities on the Devils River (DR) while protecting
the wildlife resource. And there is discussion about how the DRSNA (the
old Devils River State Natural Area) and the DRR (the new Devils River
Ranch) will work in conjunct. However, the group is not dealing with how
the two properties will be operated generally, nor the plan for the new
DRR (and changes to the existing DRSNA) - except as how it relates to
river usage by paddlers - as there is another group working on that.
FWIW, the two properties (likely becoming 3) will be considered a single
operational unit with separated physical areas.

I serve on the DRWG alongside several other (fairly well-known) paddlers
in Texas. The group also includes a local shuttle operator, at least one
river guide (primarily for angling), as well as many of the landowners
along the paddlable stretch, including the Nature Conservancy which owns
the land across from the DRSNA as well as at Dolan Falls (the most
photographed falls in Texas, supposedly). It also includes several folks
from throughout TPWD including former NPS personnel as well as folks
that have experience serving similarly in other states.

The traditional DR run has been from Baker's Crossing (BC) down to Blue
Sage subdivision (BS) (not currently available) or on to Rough Canyon
Marina on Lake Amistad (the lake). Soon, there will be camping and
access available at the newly acquired DRR although Gerald has access to
an area called Devils Back. Starting from BC, the DRSNA is at about mile
15 and BS about mile 24. The newly purchased DRR straddles the weir dam
(mile 32.5) about 5 miles in each direction, and shares management of
some of the shoreline with the National Parks Service (NPS) which
manages the US side of the lake. From the weir dam, it's 14 miles to
Rough Canyon Marina (plan to spend a full day paddling, sometimes
against head winds, or get a tow).

Unfortunately, a number of recent changes have made paddling the Devils
River more difficult logistically for paddlers than a couple of years
ago, and even then it was difficult. A year or two ago, the Baker family
leased their land to a hunting operator and thus no longer allow
paddlers to camp or put-in at BC as previously allowed. Local shuttle
operator Gerald Bailey still has access, though - and who else are you
gonna get to run your shuttle anyways? Compounding the problem,
currently, the one and only take-out on the river is now Devils Back
(unless you're paddling to Rough Canyon on the lake, quite a long
paddle), and AFAIK the only way to obtain access to it (currently) is
through Gerald Bailey. Previously, we took out at Blue Sage, but apparently
Gerald no longer has access to the river at BS. You can still put-in at
DRSNA, but not take out there (some regulation of TPWD that doesn't make
sense to me, and may change, but it's still this way atm). Currently,
you can still put in at the 163 bridge, but what will you do with your
vehicles if you don't get a shuttle and where will you take out?

Currently, the first officially available campsite is 15 miles
downstream at the DRSNA. At the DRSNA, you may reserve one night and one
night only, and you must reserve it 48 hours in advance through the
Austin reservation line, and woe be it to you if you don't make your
mileage; the ranger there (who grew up in the region, but that is
anecdotal) will not take pity on you and allow you to change your date -
even if there is room (only a couple of slots). He may offer to let you
move on and/or write you a ticket for about $250/person. Believe me it
takes all day humping it to make the 15 miles from BC to DRSNA - you
won't have time to fish, swim, or otherwise enjoy yourself because of
the extreme environment and traditionally low flows. The last time I was
there, a group didn't make their mileage (they passed us the next
morning; their campsite unused). Once you leave, you will you then have
to hump it all the way to your takeout - another 15 miles. There exist a
couple of dubious islands, one about mile 11 or so, and another about
mile 20 or so, but they may or may not exist and/or may not be
available. Generally, any camping outside the river bed is private
property (anything outside the gradient boundary) and you will be
trespassing and likely ticketed and/or asked to move on if caught.

DRWG meetings, at the behest of the landowner concerns, have had ample
emphasis on protecting landowner rights and enforcing trespassing laws
including how law enforcement (Game Wardens, Park/NPS Rangers, and local
police) will operate on the river and in the area. Law enforcement
activity has increased dramatically. They are patrolling the river in a
number of ways including paddling, mavik boat (where they can), and
using landowner permission to come in and access the river from various
locations. They are talking about flying the area, too, but haven't yet
been doing that.

The landowners indicate there is a "conga line of frat-boy paddlers
every weekend" (or something close to that effect) coming through,
partying, littering, trespassing, leaving human waste, having open
ground fires, and other such behavior. While I don't doubt they are
dealing with problem users, I think that the problem could be a little
overstated, but I don't live there, either, so cannot say definitively.
The landowner focus continues to generally be on law enforcement of
trespassers hopefully to get that type of non-responsible river user off
the river. At the last meeting, the law enforcement presentation
reported not only about dealing with trespassers, but when searching
folks stuff (presumably with probable cause) finding them carrying drugs
like marijuana, valium, adderol, methamphetamines, and other such stuff
leading to tickets, fines and in some cases arrests (including at least
one considered a felony).

It's the general premise of the landowners that the problem exists
mostly of college students from Val Verde county who come out and
violate the river and trespass and other such bad behavior. Apparently a
number of them get on the river late in the day with little gear and no
plan and end up violating all sorts of laws, especially trespassing and
leaving human waste everywhere (along with other litter). Interestingly,
the landowners have offered to pay for setting up a facility for a
park/permit officer at the Hwy 163/BC launch/permit area, to fund
additional law enforcement positions, and just about anything else they
believe will help get rid of these "drunken frat parties."

The entire working group agrees that the Devils River is the most
pristine river in Texas and pretty much the only one left that hasn't
been polluted and/or loved to death. I'll agree it's an amazing river
and tremendously beautiful place, but it's not a friendly place to be,
generally. You can use it, just don't plan on doing anything but
paddling hard and busting your butt. It's almost logistically designed
to not allow public users to be there. Paddling the DR requires much
effort, forethought, and little enjoyment (think 2 15-mile days humping
it the entire time, without time to fish, swim, or otherwise sit back
and enjoy the moment and spot and meditate on live, love, and happiness).

The short story (if I can make a story short - ha!) of the future
solution is that TPWD plans to manage the river similar to how many
western rivers are managed. Generally, this will require a permit
(unless you can find other access yourself), and part of the permit will
be that you will carry a human waste facility of some sort, a firepan
(if/when fires - charcoal or wood - are allowed, even possibly requiring
you to bring your own firewood), an appropriate number and type of PFDs,
extra paddles, etc.

The carrot, though, is that in exchange for the permit, and only
available to permit holders, you will have access to some newly created
camping spaces on private lands that are being generously provided by
landowners but operated by TPWD. Some of the landowners recognize the
rights of the citizens to access the river and state they would be happy
to see the likes of responsible paddlers like those of us serving on the
DRWG - if they can also get rid of the irresponsible yahoos. They feel
that offering up some use of their land for camping to those who can act
in a responsible manner is a good exchange. I think it's certainly
better than what we've had in the past, and paddlers should demand our
own to be responsible users of this last wonderful pristine river
wilderness. I've, unfortunately paddled with some (only once each) whom
I believe to act in less than good faith the leave no trace mantra. The
boy scout side of me rankles in thought. So far it looks like four (4)
new sites will be created (TPWD cannot compel them to do so, but one
landowner has lead the way and encouraged others to participate).

All of this is still under discussion. The DRWG broke into several
working subcommittees focusing on things like access, education,
outreach, funding, law enforcement, and other such. There will be a
final meeting of this group in December and then the advisory document
will be forwarded to the commission in January for their consideration.

One of the first inevitable questions is: How will TPWD require a permit
on what is a Texas river and thus Texans (and any Yankee or other such
person there) have the constitutionally protected right to navigate the
river? Well, you certainly still have that right - if you can access it
first. But, access to the river will be limited to TPWD managed lands
(at BC, DRSNA and DRR) or any of the private landowners you might know.
And, if you plan to use any of the TPWD managed access points (even if
using private land to access another endpoint of your trip) or any of
the permitted camping spots, you will be required to obtain a river
permit - your contract with the state on proper, respectful (and
expected) behavior.

Well, what about the Hwy 163 access near Bakers Crossing, you may ask?
The public lands at the Hwy 163 access area will be handed over to TPWD
operationally through a Memo of Understanding (MoU) penned by the Texas
Department of Transportation (TXDoT) giving TPWD management control of
the property surrounding Hwy 163 and BC which will allow them to control
access to the river and surrounding public property at that point. You
will need the permit to legally use this spot which will effectively
become a TPWD state park.

The river permit will certainly require an administrative fee of some
sort (which will have to be reasonable). Talks is that there will be
some limit to the number of folks in each party (people and/or boats)
as well as the number of parties that can launch in a single day. Some
of this will be driven by campsite size, too. But we're talking 4 more
additional camping opportunities on the river itself (currently, perhaps
more, perhaps in the future) allowing paddlers (and amateur anglers like
myself) the opportunity to actually enjoy the trip, swimming and fishing
(and meditating or communing with mother nature) some along the way.
And, I think that TPWD will do this one way or another, so working to
get campsites available to enjoy the river is a good thing. I don't
think in any way that 4 is enough, but it is certainly a start.

The discussion about the permit related to assuaging landowners is that
it's an additional legally binding contract between you and the state -
you are not obligated to sign it, but you also don't get to play if you
don't. All other laws remain the same, but non-permit holders won't have
access to camping sites along the river (perhaps ability to use TPWD
lands as access points either). The contract includes following all
other rules agreed to related to fires (or not), propane type cooking
facility (perhaps), human waste, encompassing the general leave-no-trace
experience, etc. Another aspect of the river permit that being discussed
is catch and release fishing only. There is some question about what day
use of the river will mean (i.e., will you need a river permit to paddle
in the water and fish near either park area and/or if I go from one park
area to the other in one day and don't camp do I need a river permit).
C&R only is being requested by several of the landowners in the stretch
above Dolan Falls. Gary Garrett, TPWD Freshwater Fisheries, stated that
this would need to be based on scientific findings. More piscatorial studies are planned.

There is no way to adequately express in this message the multitudinous
discussions that have transpired at these meetings between landowners,
paddlers, TPWD and the other interested parties. Generally, they have
been positive cordial discussion, focusing on solutions, although a
little heated at times as well, primarily due to the passions of all
involved. The paddlers serving on the DRWG - along with TPWD - have
continually reiterated the rights of citizens to paddle the river and to
have public access to this treasured resource. But we all want to
protect what makes it the wonderful wilderness experience it is. The
question is where does that balance, and how do you make it work, and
how many of the public can access/use the river. It is my impression
that some of the landowners would prefer that the river be closed to the
public totally, or possibly to only 4-6 public users at a time. TPWD
realizes their mission doesn't allow that nor does the state
constitution, but it will certainly be managed differently than it has
in the past.

Generally, I think, the proposal will satisfy the needs of responsible
river users and the issues of landowners. But, once in place, and once
you get there, plan on an increased vigilance by landowners and law
enforcement - at the very least until things settle out. But, with the
small cost of a river permit, and doing the responsible things we
responsible paddlers already do, we'll have more opportunity to enjoy
the river and the trip, and hopefully in the future, we could have even
more. I'd love to be able to have a layover day at the DRSNA, too.

I've tried to keep emotion out of this message and focus on the issues
and the facts and such as I understand them. I hope I've done so. The
devil is in the details, pun intended.

I also note I have not focused at all on the plant and fauna (including
fish) in the area, of which there is much and a diverse array, and some
peculiar to the area. This is focused on as well included in the context
of protecting the wildlife resource why providing appropriate user
access. On my last visit I ran into a knee-high bobcat (sizable) who was
more into challenging me than running away as I'm used to experiencing.
I think they maybe had some others they were protecting or something.
Quite the experience.

I welcome any thoughts or feedback. I wasn't elected, but I'm trying to
serve the interests of paddlers and the public in this advisory body.

Best regards,

Mark Boyden
Paddler, Amateur Angler
Austin, TX

You are welcome to cross-post this message to other paddling/angling groups.

Cross posted by Richard Grayson, DRWG member, Paddler/Angler, GRTU Member

User avatar
Rafael Torres
Posts: 29
Joined: Sun Mar 30, 2008 1:14 pm
Location: Austin

Re: Devils River Update (long post)

Post by Rafael Torres » Tue Oct 04, 2011 10:54 pm

Thanks for the info Rich.
Rafael ><~}}}}*>

"Rise and Rise Again, Until Lambs Become Lions"

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