Historical Use v. Money, Control and Power

Ohiopyle Falls on the Youghiogheny River

Image via Wikipedia

A summer camp in eastern Pennsylvania is suing the state of Pennsylvania over the right to run rafting trips on the Youghiogheny River. This statement does not seem like much at first however it is a very interesting legal argument about a state’s right to control commercial activities on its rivers. See SBTW sues DCNR for right to raft.

In this case the summer camp is Summer’s Best Two Weeks (SBTW), a Christian youth camp that has been running raft trips for its campers for more than 30 years. Several years ago the state licensed four outfitters as the only commercial rafting operators on the Youghiogheny River and ordered SBTW to quit running raft trips.

It is not evident from the information whether SBTW was offered a commercial permit.

The commercial rafting companies were probably excited because they knew they could pick up the $30,000 of rafting that SBTW would provide. Yet it seems no one in the state or the commercial operators understood basic economies: supply and demand. In this case SBTW did not hire one outfitter for one trip. The cost of hiring a commercial raft company to take the campers down the river was more than the summer camp could pay. Simple economics, rafting is fun, but at a price.

I have to admit a little bias in this case. While I was working on the rivers in the west my brother was a raft guide for SBTW.

We do not know the states reasoning for either excluding or not including SBTW. Was it to keep SBTW off the river or where they influenced by commercial companies to increase their income?

This story can be repeated on rivers and trails across the US. You can change out the word camp for college or any other non-profit group and see outfitters believing that by excluding them from being on the same area they can profit from the result. It never works. There is a ceiling on the amount these some groups can pay and in the case of college programs there are different goals. Commercial companies want to provide entertainment for their clients. Colleges may want to educate, teach, build teams or have numerous other goals.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for outfitters, they are my bread and butter. But the outdoor industry never looked at the economics of outdoor activities other than their own bottom line. Campers and their parents, college students and their parents, most groups and parents have a fixed amount of money they can be spent on the summer or an education. Once that amount of money is spent, no more activities are undertaken.

There scenario has been played out for years at various recreational hot spots and is going to boil over as the forest service notifies more colleges and universities that they are no longer allowed on USFS land without a permit or a commercial outfitter on a permit.

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