Sarah Krakoff, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School, is sending her students down river. Literally.
She and the 19 students in her natural resources class will brave the rapids on a two-week rafting excursion down the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon—a first-of-its kind trip designed to explore water law and related legal issues on the ground (or on the water, as it were.) Krakoff has been contemplating the trip for more than a decade after rafting the river twice and using her photos to illustrate classroom discussions. The inaugural trip comes after two years of intense planning by Krakoff and extensive fundraising efforts by students to pay the portion of the $4,000 per-person cost not covered by the university. The group will cover 226 miles of the famed Colorado River, pushing off at Lees Ferry, upstream of the Grand Canyon, on May 15.
We caught up with Krakoff this week to discuss the logistics of the trip and what she hopes her students take from the experience. Her answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Are there any other classes like this? Where did the idea come from?
Not at a law school. At the University of Colorado we’ve done what we call a field seminar for decades. It usually involves a seven-to-eight-day road trip over Spring Break where we go and visit places where there are natural resources disputes. The concept has been there for a while, but we’ve never done it with a two-week wilderness rafting trip in the Grand Canyon. I had wanted to see if I could structure a course that way since I began teaching it. You can really teach everything through the prism of the Colorado River as it runs through the Grand Canyon. It would be a great way to plunge the students into that kind of experiential learning.
What will you actually do on the trip?
It’s a lot of rafting, but it’s a lot of seeing what they’ve been studying all semester. We’ve been reading everything we can about the Colorado River itself—it’s the main water source for seven Western states and is the subject of many legal battles going back a century. We’ve been reading about all the ways the canyon is shaped by law and policy. There are Indian tribes with rights to the canyon, and public lands issues that surround the canyon—questions of development. That’s the background. As we go through the Grand Canyon in rafts, they will literally see places where legal decisions have affected the river.
As we’re running through these huge rapids and they try to avoid falling into this extremely cold water, we’ll talk about why the water is so cold—because the runoff is halfway down Glen Canyon Dam so that that water can run through the turbines that create hydropower for cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix. The water’s natural flow is much warmer.
You also have guest speakers lined up along the way, right?
They’ll meet with Park Service employees who can talk about conservation efforts in the canyon, and endangered species management and reintroduction. We’ll talk with lawyers, two of whom will be on our trip. We’ll have fireside lectures the whole way through and talk about how the experience of seeing this place helps them put everything together that they studied.
Let’s talk logistics. How rustic will this trip be?
It’s all camping. Tents, or sleeping out under the star. No lodges.
So does someone follow you in a van with all your stuff?
Oh no, it’s all in the rafts. It’s a two-week, wilderness rafting trip. It’s huge water in the Grand Canyon. It’s got its own rating system because the volume of water is so high. It’s a lot of work to keep the rafts from flipping and running into the rapids.
You have professional guides, right?
Yes. We hired an outfitter.
What do you want your students to come away with after this trip?
I guess I want them to come away with a heightened sense of their obligation as the next generation of natural resources, water, and American Indian law leaders. I think there’s a way you can really see and experience almost every serious legal issue that confronts the West by travelling through this canyon. I want them to have an unforgettable experience, which won’t be hard. But I want them to really feel their professional obligations.
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org.