Fri | Feb 21, 2020

Rio Grande rafting under threat

Published:Friday | April 13, 2018 | 12:00 AMGareth Davis Sr/Gleaner Writer
A raft captain transporting two tourists on the Rio Grande.
Lawrence Chisolm (front), president of the Raft Captains Association at Rio Grande rafting in Portland, with fellow raft captains.

Berrydale, Portland:

Raft captains assigned to Rio Grande rafting, Portland's premiere tourists attraction site, have threatened to withdraw their services, which could result in a shutdown of operations at that facility.

The irate raft captains are insisting that unless they are allowed to operate after the closure of the ticketing office at the lone raft stand at Berrydale, the industry will be shut down.

The warning comes against the background of a recent incident where raft captains have alleged that they were barred by the police from operating after the closure of the ticketing office at 4 p.m. one evening.

President of the Raft Captains Association, Lawrence Chisolm, told The Gleaner recently that the action of the police is unjustified. He argued that there is a clear understanding between them (raft captains) and the operators of Rio Grande rafting, which permits them to operate independently, after the office closes.

"I have been with this industry for 27 years," commented Chisolm. "We had discussions in several meetings with the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) about us operating after the ticketing office closes at 4 p.m. It was agreed that we could continue to operate on our own, once the office closes. Now for the police to be acting in this manner, it is quite shocking. The police have also threatened to shoot us in the event that we continue to operate after the office closes."

It is against that background that Chisolm is calling for TPDCo to intervene. He noted that unless the matter is resolved, they will be forced to withdraw their service.




But the police have hit back, while claiming that there are frequent reports of illegal rafting taking place among some raft captains, who operate their own business on the side, which have resulted in TPDCo losing money to the illicit trade.

According to a police source, who asked not to be named, unsuspecting customers, including tourists, are lured away and encouraged by some raft captains, who offer them a cheaper fare aboard the bamboo rafts, while transporting them halfway up the Rio Grande.

The source pointed out that such operations are illegal, and that they have been working overtime to stop the illicit activities.

Chisolm, however, is insisting that their operations are legal and legitimate, as it is sanctioned by TPDCo. He noted that operating after the closure of the ticketing office allows them to earn a little extra money, especially with the decline in rafting. He also argued that at no time were they informed about any changes by the operators, as it relates to them operating beyond the closure of the ticketing office.




Rio Grande rafting has suffered several setbacks over the last three years, including damage to its ticketing office and terminal building due to flooding. In January, the ticketing office was inundated after the Rio Grande overflowed its banks during one week of torrential rainfall.

Additionally, 75 of the 90 rafting vessels owned by raft captains were washed away during that period.

Daryl Vaz, member of parliament for West Portland, pledged to look into the situation, and to see how best the matter can be resolved.

"Rafting is an integral part of the tourism product," said Vaz.

"There is no way that we can afford a shutdown at this time. These raftsmen are totally dependent on their livelihood, and with each disaster, they somehow bounce back."

He added, "Yes, there are reported incidents of illegal rafting from time to time, but those who operate legitimately have to be protected. Rio Grande rafting has a rich history that has to be preserved."