Nov 26, 2009 (The Lewiston Morning Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Changes are in store for whitewater enthusiasts looking to score permits for Idaho's best rivers.
Each year, rafters and kayakers enter a lottery hoping to win trip permits during the high-use summer season for the Hells Canyon stretch of the Snake River and the Selway, Middle Fork of the Salmon and Main Salmon rivers.
The U.S. Forest Service administers the lottery and in the past those looking to win permits had to file permit applications with local offices of the agency. For the 2010 boating season, boaters will be required to apply for permits through the Web site www.recreation.gov. It is the same site campers use to make reservations at federal campgrounds throughout the country.
Contrary to rumors, Kent Fullenbach, a public affairs officer for the Salmon Challis National Forest based in Salmon, said the river lottery is not being outsourced to a call center in India.
"It has not been outsourced outside of the U.S.," he said. "I know a lot of people are nervous about it just because it's a change, but I really believe it's going to be a better system once people get used to it."
Boaters can apply for the lottery as soon as Tuesday and as late as Jan. 31. To do so they will have to go to the Web site and create a user profile. Under the previous system, boaters could enter applications for several people at one time. But the new Web site requires each applicant to have their own e-mail address and their own password.
Under the new system, each of the rivers will have its own lottery. River runners can enter up to four applications, one for each of the rivers, and choose up to four potential launch dates for each of the rivers. That is a change from the past when applicants could enter only one application per person and had to choose which of the rivers they wanted a permit for. There is a fee of $6 for each lottery entered for a total fee of $24 if boaters apply for permits on all four rivers. But river runners have the chance to win multiple permits per year.
Fullenbach said river runners also can use the Web site to turn in permits if they can't make a trip or to pick up a permit another boater has turned in. Permits can be turned in 24 hours a day and canceled permits can be claimed by other boaters 24 hours per day.
The Web site will also take reservations for river trips during the spring and fall when permits are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. The site will also include updates on weather and other events such as wildfires that can affect people's plans.
Fullenbach said he has heard some people say the change will increase the odds of drawing a permit. He's not so sure that will be true.
"We can't tell you what it is going to do for the odds. We still have the same number of boaters out there and have not increased the number of launches."
On the Net: www.fs.fed.us/r4/sc/recreation/4rivers/index.shtml
Barker may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 848-2273.
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