The fallout's still falling from Monday's announcement that Dave Owen would be ending his Eno River wafting program, launched from the city-owned West Point Park on the Eno, after almost twenty years of offering the tours -- the last year of which having seen Owen playing a key and very public role in advocating for the park's transfer to the state park system.
In a brief interview on Wednesday, Durham Parks & Rec chief Rhonda Parker told BCR that DPR wasn't looking to single the wafting program out, but was instead asking them to meet the same liability requirements as other contractor programs.
According to published reports and Owen's own statement released Monday, Owen could have purchased liability insurance, or could have had all his participants sign standard-issue liability waiver forms and submit them to DPR. (Owen chose this path in 1995, but says he was told by a then-DPR official that he could skip that; returning to signed liability waivers, Owen says, "is unthinkable without an office where paperwork can be properly handled."
Parker told BCR that the provision of this insurance is something all programs are being asked to do. "It's a program that we do value in he park, but we do have to have insurance coverage," Parker said. "We do have oher partners -- the Schoolhouse of Wonder, and various other groups -- that are providng services in the park, and we're requiring them to have insurance," she added.
She also re-emphasized that Owen had had the option to operate the program under the city's methodology, by using city liability waivers and the City's registration/sign-up system for participants.
Parker said that every program like Owen's was being examined by the City in partnership with the city's risk management department to make sure they were in compliance, and that this was an effort she was taking on as a relatively new director of the department.
Asked by BCR which other programs had been specifically found to be in compliance, or not yet in compliance, with these rules, Parker did not cite specific examples, reiterating that DPR was "bringing everyone online" to make sure each program has appropriate liability coverage.
And she didn't rule out -- for her part -- a future return of the popular program if Owen were willing to comply. "The door is open. I thought he was going to come back," Parker said. "That was a decision he made, but the door's still open for him."
The N&O has a couple of more updates on the story at their blog, noting that City Council has started to get citizen complaints about the change (one resident wrote, "Durham without Wafting is like Durham without the [Starlite] Drive-In… What’s next? The Bulls leave town to go to Raleigh?")
Meanwhile, City Councilmen Mike Woodard and Eugene Brown both expressed regret and concern over the loss of the program, with Brown speaking out in an email:
Why are we now, after nearly 20 years of safe trips with over 2,000 guests, demanding that he purchase liability insurance, or that we take away the blacksmith shop as his office? ... The cardinal issue is that this is a unique and educational opportunity for our citizens and it is being denied to them by one of city departments that call itself parks and rec. Sometimes our departments need to live up to their name. What's really going on here?
Update: Dave Owen updates BCR on the matter.
i cannot work out of my car. when i used to store my boats under the mill, the city provided me an office in the mccown-mangum house. often my equipment was flooded out under the mill and covered with a six inch layer of mud. the independent ran an article criticizing wafting's moldy and rotting life jackets. collecting money is dangerous without an office as many eyes are upon me. rhonda parker's assertion that i was given "formal notice" to vacate the office is totally bogus. the decision to start a new program in the blacksmith house was made without consulting me and i was not informed until i happened to ask the park manager, beth highley, about the coming season on december 30th. if i had not asked, i would not have been informed to this day. this is what i call a a "leak," not a "formal notice." i found out that the decision to invent a new nature camp was made back in the summer of 2008 and was advertised in the fall. with a price of $100 a week for this new nature camp to be run out of the blacksmith shop, they are undermining their own contractor of schoolhouse of wonder who has to charge $250 a week to survive, and subsidizing it with taxpayer money by hiring an additional city staff person to help run it. ...
there is no way i would allow the city to handle registration for wafting. the process of registration on the phone and collecting money is a necessary process that i have to do personally because it is a way to screen out those who are not good candidates for wafting - the overweight, restless children, certain types of elderly or handicapped who can't paddle, those fearful of snakes and spiders who can cause panic and pandemonium among the group at just the sight of such a creature, those that consume alcohol, the party crowd and those who are out for just a "boat ride" and not environmental education. these folks have the potential of severely disrupting a wafting group and would compromise the safety, integrity and the quality of environmental education that we offer. DPR has no conception whatsoever of this and somehow thinks that by following their "rules" to the letter and having millions of dollars of liability insurance is going to protect the public, while in fact, what they are proposing will actually endanger and put our citizens at risk. a one million dollar pay-out [doesn't] compensate for a loss of a precious life. so the the city of durham thinks they are going to improve on my 19 years of screening? with my years of experience, i can tell how much someone weighs just by listening to their voice on the phone!
DPR can now easily decide to vacate the blacksmith shop for my wafting season, and cart the kids in a van in their newly advertised nature program up to lake miche. this would be a much improved environment for a summer camp with an outstanding and safer facility at spruce pine lodge, have the run of the area without the dangerous traffic at the west point park circle, and have a much better quality of camp experience for their kids. as a child growing up in durham, it was lake miche where i attended dpr summer camps.