At the start of a trip this past weekend I had a brief but interesting conversation with one of the longer serving wilderness rangers. Suffice to say that the increase in packraft traffic in the last few years is definitely on their radar. He mentioned the visual impact of bright boats, which sort of makes sense. I did tell him that my boat and paddle are both red to aid in finding them should we ever become separated.
The issue he mentioned more emphatically was the increased impact of packrafters on other users. His example being that a half dozen packraft parties floating a given stretch over a morning might never see each other, but the fly fishers they float by experience a “crowded” river.
I thought this comment odd, as while the South Fork Flathead is on weekends in late July and early August popular by MT standards, it’s hardly crowded, and I don’t believe there are that many packrafters out there. Then I started thinking about who those fly fishers are, and it made sense.
Those fishers (at White River park, for instance) are either backpackers (or packrafters) who hiked 20+ miles in over a day or more, folks on a private float trip in big boats, or clients on a commercial big boat trip. Some folks in the second category pack in a Watermaster or a light IK by fair means, while more pay a packer a bunch of money to get dropped off at the waters edge. The commercial clients probably paid closer to 5 figures than 3 to sleep in wall tents, eat steak for dinner, and have a name brand last best place experience.
I assume it is this last group who might get frazzled about more river traffic, especially when they realize the folks in pool toys are doing their trip for the cost of gas and a days walk.
I find it hard to be sympathetic here, but its something worth keeping in mind.