'A lot of risk for a little bit of gain'

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Superintendent William Shott points to the location of Dangling Rope Marina on a map at the park headquarters in Page.

GCNRA superintendent highlights challenges of reopening Dangling Rope

Last month, a post appeared on a discussion forum on the Wayne’s Words website under the headline “Dangling Rope permanently closing.”  

In the post, a person who identified themselves by the initials “DJA” claimed to have “received some very disturbing information from a very reliable and well-placed friend” that the National Park Service had decided to dismantle Dangling Rope Marina.

The decision had been made against the wishes of concessioner Aramark, which had “put together plans … to at least sell fuel next year,” according to the post. DJA called on “all Lake Powell boaters to spread the word and demand that the NPS help provide services there and invest in the infrastructure so Dangling Rope can open again and service Lake Powell boaters.”

The post set off a firestorm of rumor and speculation about the fate of Dangling Rope Marina, a seasonal facility located 40 miles up-lake from Glen Canyon Dam. For years, it has offered a fueling dock, minor boat repair services, a supply store and snack bar, a ranger station and restrooms, among other services. 

In July, NPS issued a press release stating that Dangling Rope Marina would not reopen in 2021 “due to significant wind damage and low water conditions.”

“A team of electrical, structural and marine engineers recently visited the site to assess the damaged infrastructure. The National Park Service is developing a plan for marina repairs and additional actions needed to address projected low water conditions,” the statement said.

William Shott, the superintendent of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which oversees Dangling Rope, said he had received “probably 40 emails from folks” about the marina as a result of the post on Wayne’s Words.

Shott said the recreation area’s general management plan, which dates back to the 1960s and early 1970s, identifies an area mid-lake to service boaters who might be making the journey up the 185-mile-long lake.

“Historically, the first mid-lake station was in a cove a little beyond Dangling Rope, as you access Rainbow Bridge National Monument. That blew out a long time ago, and the replacement was Dangling Rope,” he said. “It’s seasonal, so it always closes in the winter because there’s just not the demand for anything up there.”

Shott said Dangling Rope has been operating for years, but a couple years ago, in the middle of a project to update the electrical system, a windstorm came through and “completely fractured” the marina system. 

“That last year was offline all year as that project continued to try to fix it, and then the drought has occurred, so we’ve been without all those services up there for over a year,” he said, adding that there were “a lot of challenges” to potentially reopening the facility, not the least of which were the cumulative effects of the drought.

As of Dec. 6, the water level at Lake Powell was 3,541.14 feet. The Bureau of Reclamation projects that between now and March, the water level will drop another 25 to 30 feet, with the most probable amount being 27.5 feet. 

“I think folks are thinking, ‘Why don’t you just fix Dangling Rope? You’ve been offline, why don’t you just fix it?’ Well, fixing it isn’t the problem, the problem now is that we don’t have water back in that cove,” Shott said. “With our projections dropping another 27 feet from here to March, in that channel there’s going to be a 100 foot wide of navigable water. The marina is much wider than that.”

Shrinking the marina to fit that space would mean getting rid of all services except gas, but even then, there would be no space to navigate houseboats, which account for the majority of users at Dangling Rope, he said.

“The solution to that is to move it further out. As that cove gets wider, there’s more room, it’s deeper water. But then you’ve got the issue of powering it. All that shore power has to come out,” Shott said. 

“We think we figured out a way how to extend it at pretty significant cost, to extend the power line out further, as much as a mile until you get to a location that’s going to be sustainable and last at least a season.”

However, moving the marina farther out also increases its potential exposure to damaging winds.

“The further you bring it out, the higher risk of that thing being broken. We’re not talking about an errant houseboat bouncing around. We’ve got thousands of gallons of fuel bouncing around on the Colorado River. A lot of risk, and you’d have to move breakwater and you’d have to engineer a solution in deeper water to try to anchor it, so that’s not promising either,” Shott said.

Another issue is delivering fuel to the generators, but potential solutions – from engineering a new road so fuel could be pumped from a barge into a vehicle that would make the rest of the run, to building a new pipeline at the fueling station – would require extensive planning, engineering and huge cost. 

“Last, but not least, you have to man it, and now you have to power it, too, because now you’re further out, so there’s the potential for putting generators on site that just power the gas pumps and the fire suppression system that has to go along with it,” Shott said. 

“I think we’ve identified the size of generators that we would need for that, but they require operation, and you have to fuel those as well.  We can’t find those generators right now with the supply and demand. We think we’ve found a place where we can lease them, but again now you have the cost associated with that as well. We’re not completely sure those would power it consistently enough to be confident in the fire suppression system that has to go along with it.” 

As far as employees, Shott said NPS would value their safety over maintaining the operation at Dangling Rope.  

“Where do they live? It’s a remote location, you’re living on houseboats. It’s just not a tenable, sustainable solution. Those houseboats also need to be powered, they need to be pumped out, they’re floating in the same wind and things like this,” he said. 

Shott said the options being looked at for Dangling Rope are aimed at trying to figure out how to reopen in 2022. 

“But it’s a lot of money to put into a short-term fix that has a lot of risk associated with it. What you get in return for that is a gas station. Nothing else. I always look at things as risk versus gain, so that’s a lot of risk for a little bit of gain,” he said. 

He added that the risks and costs associated with Dangling Rope must be compared to other projects around the lake, including Stateline Auxiliary Ramp, which can be extended until the lake level drops to 3,450 feet. 

“A lot of our houseboat services, a lot of our folks that own small businesses in town, it’s a big industry, they were out of work for three weeks” while work was being completed on the Stateline Auxiliary Ramp, he said.  

“We felt terrible about it. But we feel really great that we were able to get a ramp made and they’re back in operation. The Stateline Auxiliary Ramp is being used today,” Shott said. 

“If we lose Dangling Rope, no one loses a job. If we lose a ramp here, or if we don’t get a ramp built in Bullfrog or Hall’s Crossing or a takeout up in Hite, there’s industry that stops there. To me, if we’re going to focus our resources, in terms of our engineering resources and our dollars and our planning and our compliance, it’s a pretty easy decision.”  

Shott said he wants to focus on building new infrastructure, as well as on repurposing or relocating marinas like Dangling Rope to locations where they don’t have to be touched again unless the lake level drops below 3,450 feet. 

“That should make it a lot easier for my staff to maintain it, and it should make it easier for our concessioner to run a successful business, and probably most importantly, it should make all of our public feel really confident about Lake Powell,” he said.

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