More on the stormwater tempest in a bioretention teapot
BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for February 25, 2009

Riverdave's Eno "wafting" comes to an end after disagreement with City

Dave Owen announced Monday in a letter to Durham's Parks & Rec department that he'd be ending his almost two decades of offering "wafting" tours of the Eno River launched through the city's West Point Park on the Eno facilities.

Owen, together with partner Josie McNeil, has been an active voice in the debate over the future of the city-managed park; together, they've been central to the debate over a possible transfer of the park to state parks system as a way of preserving an ecologically-sensitive tract adjacent to the park. Owen has also spoken out at times over the state of the city park's management.

In Owen's letter to the City (which is posted on his program's web site), it's the city's management decisions around the park -- specifically as it relates to the wafting service he's offered, which reportedly drew as many as 2,000 participants a year -- that led to his decision to discontinue the service.

We at BCR attempted to reach Parks & Rec staff late on Tuesday afternoon but were unable to get comment from them in advance of publication.

Owen notes that the removal of his program office from the blacksmithing shop on the site is one factor; more pressing appears to be the City's requirement that he procure liability insurance for participants in the program. The wafting program had been operating under what appears to have been a handshake deal with the City. The Herald-Sun's Ray Gronberg has a very interesting analysis on this issue:

The insurance aspect of the dispute is highly unusual because governments routinely require contractors to secure coverage on their own.

But Owen got a favorable deal from a former parks department official when he started the business in 1990 that allowed him to tag onto the city's insurance. Parker said the arrangement was contingent on wafting customers signing a department-issue registration form -- something Owen said he hasn't used since 1995, with the knowledge and agreement of West Point's manager.

He said it would cost him $2,200 to insure the business for the summer, an amount that would eat into its "meager income" and in this economy couldn't be offset with a ticket price increase.

City officials aren't bending on the point. "Somehow those issues of liability coverage and waivers have to be dealt with," Voorhees said, acknowledging that the 1990 deal Owen got from the department seemed like one of those things where "something gets established and nobody asks" about the details.

Owen also complains in his letter that the City is "mismanaging the use of the old blacksmith shop" where his program was based by making it available to what he terms is a "redundant program" to Schoolhouse of Wonder, a non-profit organization offering environmental education opportunities to youth. (McNeil is a member of Schoolhouse of Wonder's board of directors.)

The Schoolhouse of Wonder already provides that opportunity for the children of Durham and with Schoolhouse of Wonder's own struggle to survive in the current economic environment, the DPR has added a camp that will be heavily subsidized by the taxpayers of Durham and is in direct competition with Schoolhouse of Wonder.  In addition, by removing the Wafting the Eno program from its operational base in the blacksmith shop, DPR has lost the only net positive income producing program at West Point Park for the City of Durham, with a loss of over $4000 a year.   And all this in the light that the Durham City Council has voted unanimously to direct the City Manager to negotiate with the North Carolina State Parks System for the transfer of management of West Point on the Eno Park.

We at BCR would expect that Owen's argument about Schoolhouse of Wonder may resonate more deeply with the City than the question of liability insurance.

New city manager Tom Bonfield has zeroed in -- apparently as both a budgetary and a philosophical priority -- on a goal of encouraging non-profits and other organizations to play a more active role in city life, versus having the city duplicate services that a non-profit might offer.

In fact, at Monday night's budget priorities workshop, there were just two questions for the tables to debate: what services do you think are the highest priorities for the City to offer, and what functions do you think could best be handled by non-profits or private businesses.

On the flip side, it's tough to see a way around the question of liability insurance that doesn't either offer (a) Owen picking up an insurance policy or (b) getting customers to sign the required forms.

In either event, it's not entirely curtains for Owen in the park; he's promising to offer "a unique land-based program" for experiencing the Eno later this year.



Wafting was one of the true ways to experience the Eno river and its wildlife. I hope RiverDave is able to continue his adventures.

Also seems to me in times like this, cities should be encouraging such non-city-run activities that teach conservation and educate people about their environment.


I'm saddened to hear about this. Some of my family will be visiting me this summer & I thought they'd really enjoy wafting the Eno. I hope the program returns once the economy turns around.

Un-freakin-believable. His program was one of the most popular and publicized in the park, if not the most. Of course who knows what politics are at play. Because, really, it's not about the customers, is it?


Look at the Herald Sun story if you want a bit more info. It sounds more like Dave didn't get things his way so he pouts. The city had been covering his insurance for the last 18 years and now that they have realized that was a mistake and told Dave he had to have insurance, like all other contractors in the city, he throws a fuss.

Seems like since he can't dictate what facilities he gets to use at the park and the city won't cover him, he is going to to out with a stink.

He is a contractor who has been treated fairly generously by the city, so it seems, over the last 18 years and now that he doesn't get his way he complains. If the Herald Sun article is correct then he would have never run this program had West Point been a State Park since he would have had to buy insurance and he supposedly can't afford the insurance. Pretty ironic since he has been bad mouthing the city's management of West Point. If it wasn't for the city we might have never had wafting for all these years.

Maybe if he would compromise then wafting would continue, instead of pulling it's my way or the highway.


we are insurance crazy! for this great program to be lost over insurance is so sad. i mean come on, it is supposed to be something to make you safer, more protected, not dictate life! my husband and i got married at west point on the eno and the city made my mom take out half a million dollars of insurance so that we could have a champagne toast. (thanks mom)

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