Summer Camp In Court To Defend Its Right to Raft

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · April 7, 2008

Arlington, Va.—May Pennsylvania bureaucrats forbid a popular Christian summer camp from continuing its 31-year tradition of safe whitewater rafting simply to protect the financial interests of a local rafting cartel?

That is the question before a panel of judges from the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, who will hear oral argument today on whether the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is violating the Pennsylvania Constitution by preventing a popular Christian summer camp, Summer’s Best Two Weeks (SB2W), from conducting its traditional rafting trips down the Lower Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle State Park. For more than 30 years, the non-profit, non-denominational group, located about an hour southeast of Pittsburgh in Boswell, Pa., has led campers down the storied whitewater as a way to teach courage, teamwork, self-reliance, faith in God, and respect for nature.

“This is a backward rule that turns a legendary stretch of public whitewater into a for-profit amusement park ride,” said Staff Attorney Jeff Rowes of the Institute for Justice (IJ), a national public interest law firm representing the camp. “Summer’s Best Two Weeks has an unblemished safety record in 30 years of rafting. Excluding the camp from rafting has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with the financial interests of the commercial outfitters.”

In 2001, Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources withdrew its longstanding permission for SB2W’s annual rafting trips on the Lower “Yough” and now demands that the camp either hire Ohiopyle’s cartel of four commercial outfitters or stay off the river entirely. In 2006, the camp teamed up with IJ to file suit, seeking to declare unconstitutional the DCNR’s arbitrary denial of SB2W’s freedom to raft.

“For more than 30 years, our whitewater rafting trip has played an integral role in the wilderness experience we offer,” said Jim Welch, the founder of Summer’s Best Two Weeks. “It has served as a rite of passage for our campers, giving them a powerful sense of accomplishment and memories to last a lifetime. We are confident the court will uphold our right to raft down the Lower Yough like we did for decades.”

“Summers Best Two Weeks has an outstanding safety record and all we want to do is what we’ve always done: safely and peacefully raft the river,” added Kent Biery, the camp’s executive director. “Our whitewater trips bring campers and counselors together to integrate the skills, values and faith that we teach. We look forward to finally getting back on the river.”

Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice has represented entrepreneurs nationwide who successfully fought arbitrary and unnecessary regulations. These cases include the landmark legal battle to advance the American ideal of economic liberty when, on May 16, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down discriminatory state shipping laws that hampered small wineries as well as their consumers. IJ also secured the first federal appeals court victory for economic liberty since the New Deal.