Up a Creek Without a Paddle: Summer Camp Challenges Pennsylvania’s River Rafting Cartel

John Kramer
John Kramer · April 4, 2006

Arlington, Va.—Government at every level imposes itself with greater frequency on even the most innocent areas of our lives. In Pennsylvania, that now includes summer camp.

For more than 30 years, “Summer’s Best Two Weeks,” (SB2W) a non-profit non-denominational Christian summer camp located about an hour southeast of Pittsburgh in Boswell, Pa., helped its campers navigate the whitewater rapids of the nearby Lower Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle State Park.

But nothing on the river prepared the Camp for trying to negotiate the tricky waters of Pennsylvania’s regulatory bureaucracy.

Even though any other private party using acceptable equipment can travel down the river without hiring a commercial outfitter, in 2001, Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources withdrew its longstanding permission for SB2W’s annual rafting trips on the Lower “Yough,” ending—for now—a 30-plus-year rite of passage for campers. As a result, for the past four years, SB2W campers have been denied this opportunity.

Through generous donations, Summer’s Best Two Weeks maintains its own rafting equipment and never charges campers for the whitewater element of its program. Yet the Department now demands that Summer’s Best Two Weeks either pay Ohiopyle’s cartel of four commercial outfitters up to $30,000 each year to take its campers down the Lower Yough or that the camp stay off the river entirely. This is the State’s demand even though no camper in SB2W’s long history rafting the Yough has ever suffered serious injury, while at least four rafters under the supervision of the commercial outfitters have died in the past ten years.

Summer’s Best Two Weeks is both unwilling and unable to pay the outfitters for trips the Camp had always handled itself. Left with no other option, on April 4, 2006, the Camp, represented by the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, filed suit in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg seeking to declare unconstitutional the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ arbitrary denial of SB2W’s freedom to raft on the same terms as every other private party.

David Roland, the Institute for Justice’s lead attorney on the case, said, “The Pennsylvania Constitution requires that restrictions on liberty ‘bear a real and substantial relationship’ to a legitimate government purpose; protecting the profits of businesses that are part of a government-created cartel is not such a purpose.”

“When government creates a cartel, abuse of power, loss of rights and exclusion inevitably follow,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, which is representing the Camp for free. “The government is trying to impose a more dangerous, more expensive and more exclusionary cartel on the public. That is hardly a reasonable means to any end the government is trying to achieve. There must be constitutional limits to the discretion exercised by government agencies in establishing and enforcing policies.”

“This is an opportunity to restore an important tradition our leaders and campers have shared since 1969,” said Jim Welch, founder of Summer’s Best Two Weeks. “The whitewater rafting trip was the pinnacle of a series of wilderness experiences. It served as an important rite of passage for the campers, demonstrating a new stage of maturity, experience and accomplishment. Over the years, campers who enjoyed this experience came back sharing memories and tales of excitement, challenge and wonder that will last for a lifetime. We hope the court will say, once and for all, that we should have the same opportunity to experience the Lower Yough that the Park already affords everyone else.”

“Our whitewater trips allowed our counselors to share a unique, adventurous bonding experience through which they could help to influence the faith, values and lifestyle of the campers,” added Kent Biery, executive director of Summer’s Best Two Weeks.

SB2W is a non-denominational Christian camp. It hosts two traditional summer camp programs offered on Lake Gloria and the Quemahoning Reservoir in Pennsylvania, along with “SB2Wild”—an outdoor adventure program—and the “CitiKidz” program, which provides summer camp experience in three seven-day sessions for low-income, inner-city kids who might otherwise never have such an opportunity. Each of the programs is heavily subsidized through charitable donations so children from families of all incomes can attend. The Camp charges less than $600 for its two-week camp program and only $100 per camper for its CitiKidz program.

Founded in 1991, the Institute for Justice vindicated the economic liberty of individuals nationwide who faced arbitrary government regulation. IJ opened limousine service in Las Vegas, taxicab competition in Denver, Indianapolis and Cincinnati, street book vending in New Orleans, van service in New York City, African hairbraiding in the District of Columbia, California, Arizona, Mississippi, Washington and Minnesota, retail casket markets in Tennessee, interstate wine sales in New York, and Internet speech on behalf of entrepreneurs nationwide.