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Study aims to track WS River recreation

A University of Arizona study to be conducted throughout this summer will try to map the use of the White Salmon River by rafters and kayakers.

Randy Gimblett, a professor with the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona, has conducted similar studies in Canada, Alaska, Australia and California to gauge the use of rivers by recreationists in hopes that the data collected can be used for river management.

“At some point a plan will have to be developed related to the salmon coming back to the river and if you have this kind of data at least you can talk about how people are physically using the place,” Gimblett said.

No matter where he’s gone to examine how rafters and kayakers use rivers, Gimblett said he always strives to include the community.

“When we do these studies it is not a top-down approach. I strongly feel that these communities have such a vested interest in the river and to leave out the community is wrong. I believe they have local knowledge that I don’t have, so I’ll learn as much as they do from what we’re doing, so it’s win-win,” Gimblett said.

That’s where the local rafting outfitters and landowners along the river come in. Gimblett hopes to use GPS on participating rafts and private kayakers’ boats throughout the busy season between late June and early October to capture behavioral changes on the river, when and where users slow down or speed up, and how far they go.

Gimblett reached out to multiple local rafting outfitters and will use the help of a few, including Mark Zoller of Zoller’s Outdoor Odysseys.

“It’s a whitewater conveyor belt out there and once you’re on it you’re not always seeing a lot of other folks. You can judge by the number of cars you see in the right parking areas and it’s easy to count kayakers, but it’ll just be fun to see what they come up with from their study,” Zoller said.

For Gimblett and the graduate student who will also be conducting the study, Mia Anne Montoya Hammersley, examining the recreational use on the White Salmon River in its entirety is crucial, especially now that the Condit Dam has been removed and rafters and kayakers are using the lower section of the river.

“It’s a visitor-use study. I think it’s of particular interest now with the removal of the dam. Very little is known about how people use that part of the river, so that’s the intent of the study,” Gimblett said.

Hammersley will be living in the area for the summer to carry out the study, but Gimblett would also like to work with landowners along the river who are willing to plant and monitor cameras on their shoreline. Kayakers are also invited to participate by outfitter their boats with a GPS provided by Gimblett and Hammersley during the study.

“We have a few remote cameras, so we’ll be looking at party size and hoping to either engage with landowners and have them allow us to access their land or preferably have them be there as active citizen scientists. We’ll set them up and train them on how to use the camera. It’s really about looking at boat numbers on the river,” Gimblett said.

Anyone interested in helping monitor the activity on the White Salmon River as a “citizen scientist” this summer can contact Gimblett at gimblett@ag.arizona.edu or 520-205-2817.

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