2 NH families' costly trip on Colorado River hit by shutdown
By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Sunday News | October 06. 2013 12:30AM
These New Hampshire families are among those stuck at the Grand Canyon waiting to get on the Colorado River. From left are Tyler Covell and Pete Wisniewski, both of Milford; Jon Burson, Tiffany Burson, Jean Lee, Chase Lee, Alison Burson and Heather Burson, all of North Conway. (Courtesy)
Instead, two New Hampshire families found themselves camping out last week in an Arizona parking lot, after all national parks were closed because of the federal government shutdown.
They flew to Arizona early last week and got to Lee's Ferry, where the rafting trips start, Tuesday morning. Park rangers were putting up a big red sign stating the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area was closed "due to lack of appropriations."
That's when rangers told them they wouldn't be able to put in on the river the next day, despite having paid $2,000 for a permit to do so.
The news was shattering, Scott Lee said.
"They're old enough to understand, but they're crushed. What do you tell them? That's the way a dysfunctional government works? It's tragic."
Trip leader Pete Wisniewski, who grew up in Milford and now lives in Idaho, has been requesting a permit from the National Park Service since 1995, Lee said; six months ago he got word it had come through.
"We instantly started making preparations," Lee said.
That meant arranging to be away from jobs and schools, finding pet sitters, saving money, buying gear.
Jonathan Burson, an international pilot for Delta, even spent two weeks and $2,400 to attend guide training in British Columbia so he could get his family safely down the river.
Missing three weeks of classes is especially tough for her older daughter, a senior at Kennett High School.
Chase Lee, an eighth-grader at Kennett Middle School, said he expected to "learn way more here than I would pretty much anywhere else."
Instead, they're getting an education of a different sort.
"They're learning more about the government, I think, than they ever have learned before," Burson said. "And that is that things take a very long time to happen."
How sad? "On a scale of 1 to 10, 13," she said.
It was supposed to be "a chance of a lifetime," she said. "We were just all excited to go."
Instead, Chase Lee said, "it's depressing."
"The Grand Canyon," Scott Lee said. "It's everything. It's deep solitude, it's the American West.
"There's all kinds of education going on about geology and water flows and the history of the Indians.
Tiffany Burson estimates her family spent $12,000 on travel and equipment for the trip. "We've been talking about it and planning it for at least six months. It's not only financially a strain, but emotionally, it's been very hard."
The owners of nearby Marble Canyon Lodge kindly offered to let them camp in their parking lot while the group waited hopefully for the impasse in Washington, D.C., to be resolved.
"This is my park. This is my road. This is my river," said Lee, a salesman for a manufacturing company. "I paid for it my whole life. So have all these other people sitting here."
Instead, it's small businesses - the outfitters who take groups down the river, nearby stores that depend on visitors - and families such as his who are getting hurt in the shutdown, Lee said.
They've made friends with folks from Idaho, Ohio and Montana.
"The adults are just standing around talking about politics all day long," Scott Lee said.
Lee managed to get through directly to Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., venting his frustration and urging them to negotiate a way out of the mess.
"I think that every one of them is an absolute failure at negotiation," he said. "And so therefore, they are inept for their jobs. I will vote every one of them out."
By the end of the week, their optimism was flagging and the families were facing a difficult decision. "I think we're going to probably head back in the next few days," Tiffany Burson said.
"We have 20 days of food on this truck behind me," she said. "What's going to happen to all that? We're going to have to try to see if we can get it to some hungry people. It's all going to spoil if we don't end up doing something."
Late Friday night, Jon Burson said in an email that the group had given up, abandoned the campsite and was "seeking to salvage our time off."
"I would tell them to sort of slow down and figure it out," he said.And if she could talk to Congress and the President, Alison Burson said, "I would say that we're all really disappointed.''