Gunnison River Patrol

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MAGGIE DUNGAN AND PATRICK PRATCHETT ARE MEMBERS OF THE GUNNISON GORGE RIVER PATROL. ALONG WITH FELLOW RANGER, SHAWN FOLKERTS, THEY FLOAT THE GUNNISON AND TALK WITH VISITORS.

THE GUNNISON GORGE RIVER PATROL WORK OUT OF THE BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT'S UNCOMPAHGRE FIELD OFFICE, WHICH IS LOCATED IN COLORADO'S SOUTHWEST DISTRICT. THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR PATROLLING THE LOWER GUNNISON, THE SAN MIGUEL RIVER AND OCCASIONALLY THE DOLORES RIVER.

RIVER PATROLLERS MUST HAVE SIGNIFICANT GUIDING EXPERIENCE AS WELL AS SWIFTWATER RESCUE AND MEDICAL TRAINING TO WORK FOR THE BLM.

AFTER SIX YEARS OF GUIDING FULL-TIME, MAGGIE BECAME A RIVER PATROLLER.

Maggie Dungan
"I think it was the next logical profession for me from being a guide because I guided for a long time and was kinda feeling like I wanted more responsibility and maybe wanted a different way to teach people. I felt like guiding I was always trying to teach people about you know, why, why we practice leave no trace, where does your garbage go, you know, what's affecting the river right now, are the fish alive, are they dead? You know, things like that. I felt that this job was a better opportunity to do that because that's more officially my job. Guiding is like, yeah, people might think this is interesting but they don't always get the message. ("Pays a little bit better," Patrick Pratchett) Yeah, the pay's better too. That's for sure. ("You get guaranteed, guaranteed hours," Patrick Pratchett) Yeah, being a guide, it's more based on the tourism industry. You know, you're all about hoping people want to go on vacation and, ah, I think our jobs taking care of this river, the river's always going to need help being taken care of. (Maggie laughs). So, I think my relationship is more directly with the river now instead of just the tourists who are using it."

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PATRICK BECAME A RIVER PATROLLER AFTER GRADUATING WITH A DEGREE IN PARKS AND RECREATION MANAGEMENT.

Patrick Pratchett
"I came from no background with rivers whatsoever. I had done scouting as a kid and I enjoyed the outdoors. But, you know, I had previously gone to school for welding and mechanics and thought that was the route I was going to go in life until I spent a summer guiding here in Colorado. And, uh, I really fell in love with the river at that point. So I went back to college that fall and changed my emphasis of study to parks and rec management and in about two and a half years, I completed my degree, my bachelor in parks and rec management and I continued to guide during those summers while I was in school. During that time I was also applying for positions that I knew enabled me to be on the water because I really enjoy that aspect. I really wanted my job to allow me to do that. But I was also looking for stability. I was also looking for a job that guaranteed me some pay."

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AFTER GRADUATING, THE BLM OFFERED PATRICK A POSITION THAT ALLOWS HIM TO BE ON THE WATER AND TO MAKE ENOUGH MONEY TO SUPPORT HIS FAMILY.

Patrick Pratchett
"Unlike some of the other rangers you might run into, I'm married. I do have a child on the way. And I needed something that would allow me to provide for my family. And I found out that working as a ranger for the federal government I could fulfill both those needs. I could be on the water. doing something I enjoy and I could also make enough money that I could survive and take care of what else was extremely important in my life and that was my family. It's a good way to do both things. Takes a little time and perseverance to get to that point."

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PATROLLING IS ALL ABOUT EDUCATING THE PUBLIC ON RIVER SAFETY. PATROLLERS MAINTAIN TRAILS AND CAMPSITES, AND ENFORCE VIOLATIONS. THEY NEED A LOT OF EXPERIENCE ON THE WATER AND STRONG COMMUNICATIONS SKILLS.

Maggie Dungan
"I think the most important skill to have is just knowing how to work with people, usually strangers, listening to them, being able to have a conversation with respect and still communicate what you need to get across about why we do this in the way we do, why we need to take care of this place and how we actually do it. I think most of the people who come down here love the wilderness, love the river but they don't always know why we take care of it the way we do. Sometimes they're like, 'I love the wilderness; i love the river,' but then they are not following Leave No Trace principles and what are those Leave No Trace principles and why do we do them. So its a lot about education and talking to people. I think that's the biggest skill for working down here."

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THIS POSITION ALSO INVOLVES REPORTING THE NUMBER OF VISITORS AND THE KIND OF ROUTES THEY USED TO ACCESS GUNNISON GORGE. 

Patrick Patchett
"We try to make contact as much as we can with the people that are on the water, well, more than just the water, the people that are in the actual gorge itself, whether they're hiking or boating. We try and get an understanding of who they are and where they're from so we can get an understanding of the use. We report the numbers of the people we see to our office, to our managers so they can make decisions and recommendations as to perhaps future changes and the planning that takes place here in the Gorge. They just need to know, they need to have an understanding of what's going on in this resource base. And our job is basically to be their eyes and ears. So, we talk to people, we educate them, but I think the most important aspect of our job is really to be those eyes and ears for the people who are making the decisions as to how this place should be managed."
 
Maggie Dungan
"That is definitely one of the most important things. I think we kind of are definitely…we provide the people in the offices with an opportunity to be in touch with what's going on down here. I feel really lucky that we are the ones who get to be out here a lot. And so we see that they might not know about and we report back to them and let them know what's going on out here." (Maggie, 23 seconds)

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PATROLLERS SURVEY THE GORGE'S TWENTY-THREE CAMPSITES AND VARIOUS ACCESS TRAILS TO ENSURE THEY ARE CLEAN. 

THEY ALSO EDUCATE GUNNISON GORGE VISITORS ABOUT LEAVE NO TRACE PRINCIPLES AND SCOUT OUT NEW, POTENTIAL CAMPSITES.

Patrick Pratchett
"We'll, uh, if there's somebody there, we'll generally stop every time and say hello. We like to look at, make sure they have the necessary equipment: they have a portable bathroom, that they're not making a fire, make sure they have their permit. Most of this does apply to the private groups because the commercial groups are already aware of what's going on because they're in here so much."
 
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THE GUNNISON GORGE IS A GOLD MEDAL FISHERY THAT CONTAINS CLASS THREE RAPIDS. MOST OF THE VISITORS TO THIS PART OF THE GORGE WANT TO FLOAT THE RIVER AND FISH ALONG THE WAY. MANY ARE COMMERCIAL OUTFITTERS WHO MAKE A LIVING GUIDING TOURISTS THROUGH THE GORGE. OTHERS ARE EXPERIENCED KAYAKERS OR RAFTERS. 

Maggie Dungan
"This is mainly a Class III run which is pretty much middle of the road white water. Would you say so, Maggie? (Patrick) "I would definitely say it's Class III. It's got a lot of features that are typical to Colorado that I wasn't used to coming in and being an East Coast boater. So I'd say narrower pool drops. So there's some short rapids that in that short amount of time there's a lot of big boulders to wiggle through. It's pretty narrow, but then you're in a nice, safe zone where there's some flat water to recoup if anything goes wrong. But definitely Class III, just like a Colorado Class III, and then, I haven't seen it in the spring but I'm sure with water it goes up to Class IV. Once this place is pumping with water, it gets pretty exciting" 

Patrick Pratchett
"The consequences in here are pretty minimal, which makes it a great river for a lot of people. A lot of work to get in here to make it happen. But because of the pool drop style you have a lot of calm stretches like the one we're in right now, it allows a lot of recovery time in the event of a mishap. So, you know, there's a lot of rivers in Colorado where that's not the case. Some portions of the Upper Arkansas where if you have a mishap, it's going to be a really long, rough swim. It's going to be pretty much self-rescue. You need to take care of yourself. Your guide or whoever you’re with or if you're by yourself, every individual has to make sure they are looking out for number one to begin with so that way they can help others. It's a little bit more casual in here in that aspect of real hard white water."

Maggie Dungan
"I do think something important that's affecting the rating of the rapids down here is while the rapids themselves might not be terribly difficult at low water, the chances for an evacuation are. So sometimes I meet folks who are like, 'Yeah, I'm just starting kayaking. I don't have a roll yet. Do you think I should come down here?' And I honestly say, no.  It's not the kind of thing where somebody who is brand new to the sport should try to do by themselves. You wanna have some experience on other Class III rivers before you come down here because in the rare chance that something does go wrong there's no easy way out of here. You know, as you can see, there's really high gorge walls through here. I don't really see a helicopter coming down near where you might need help. So it'd be a long, hard evacuation if anything went wrong. And you're usually by yourself with your crew. If they don't have good swiftwater rescue skills, you might be in trouble. So, yeah, it's a Class III, Class III plus but…yeah, it's not the one to test your skills on. You wanna know you can do Class III before you come down here."

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IN ADDITION TO EXCEPTIONALLY STRONG BOATING SKILLS, PATROLLERS MUST BE PROFICIENT IN SWIFTWATER RESCUE IN ORDER TO HELP STRANDED BOATERS.

Patrick Pratchett
"Myself and Sean, the other ranger who's in the kayak ahead of us, the other ranger who's with us today, he and I had an incident on our last patrol through where we came across a private group that wrapped a boat around a rock. They hit the rock pretty much sideways and the boat got stuck, began to take on water. At the beginning of the season, we were able to take a swiftwater rescue course. It's given to the rangers on an annual basis so we can kind of remember those skills and how you would go about rescuing someone in that situation. We were able to utilize and get their boat off of that rock in that rapid. In this particular stretch of river, it's not something that occurs on a regular basis but it is something that does and can occur. As far as somebody needing medical attention, then it's pretty much along the same lines. It does occur but definitely not on a daily basis or maybe even a monthly basis but I would say annually you will have instances where you will be called upon to provide those kinds of services."

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IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN WORKING AS A MEMBER OF RIVER PATROL OR AS A PARK RANGER, VISIT OUR JOBS PAGE, WHICH IS LOCATED IN THE INFORMATION CENTER AT WWW.BLM.GOV/CO FOR MORE INFORMATION.


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