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One Man’s Dedication to Running Rivers

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Herman Hoops is a river runner based in Jensen, Utah, who has dedicated his life to protecting and recreating on the Green River. Even though a cancer diagnoses has laid him low, he still floats the waters he loves. The Salad Days, from NRS, Rig to Flip Productions, and American Whitewater, chronicles the career of this conservationist, boater, and public land steward.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] HERM HOOPS: I learn something new on every trip, man. It's just the most amazing thing. Seeing places that I've been or wanted to be, and knowing that this is pretty much it. I don't know that I'm dying, I know that I'm involved in the process of dying. And I'm not going to look on it that way. I'm just not going to look at it that way. I'm here, and I'm enjoying it. And desolation has enveloped me again. 

And I know that I know why I fight the battles. I know why I dealt with the lonely nights. And yeah, sometimes I was a son of a bitch. But it was all because this place meant so much to me. And there are very few people that cared about it one way or the other. 

My name is Herman Hoops. My dad was Herman Hoops, Herman Richard Hoops. And my grandfather was Herman Hoops. It's a German family name. A lot of people call me Herm, a lot of people call me Hoops. So it's a toss up between the two. 

I was born in New York state, but we had a farm in Vermont. Our primary income was dairy cattle. We had Ayrshire cattle. We had about 60 to 80 milking cows, which was a fairly sizable herd. And eventually we had Morgan horses, and pretty much showed everywhere in the Northeast. Our horses have shown all over the world, and a number of all Americans and grand champions, both cows and horses. 

When I was a kid on the farm, we had a fairly large pond with an old rowboat in it. And I rode that rowboat a lot. I enjoyed just rowing in circles around the pond. Back then I had no idea where it was going to take me. I had no idea. I was just rowing a rowboat around a pond. 


In 1965, bought a yellow canvas raft. And that spring I started putting it on the water and going down rivers. That's kind of when the initial stages of river running began. 


Was really just taking a boat down some moving water. Put my boat here and see what happens. And things began, the wheels began, the cogs began to line up. 

In my life, I wanted to raft all over the United States. And I realized you could do that, but you really didn't have a good idea of any one place in particular. And I slowly narrowed my places of enjoyment down to the Colorado Plateau. 

For some reason, the desolation experience grew on me. Well, I could just take my boat down to Ouray or Sand Wash and put it in. And was not uncommon for me to do five, six, 10 trips a year. And sometimes I'd go down there just because I liked to row. 

Looking at the end of it, god I miss certain things. I miss being out there alone. I miss saying, I think I'll camp here. This is room enough for one person. There was something about the freedom of it. 

The west was so wide and open, and it was one of the magnets that drew me out here and be a ranger at Dinosaur National Monument. 

INTERVIEWER: How many visitors do you have? 

HERM HOOPS: The quarry gets about 240,000 visitors a year. Our peak months are June and July. We do receive a lot of visitation in the spring and fall. Fall is a delightful time to visit Dinosaur. 

But the whole meshing of the environment and human interaction, I knew early on that people learn by doing. So the Park Service brought that experience to real life to me, that I could get people to want to protect things. And many of those people were local people who never looked at things that way before. You take people to a place and you share it with them. And then you take them back, and they get to know it. And then when they find something special about it on their own, they begin to love it. 


It is just a hat, and I don't wear it off the river. I wear it when I'm on the river. And then it became a thing where people would tell me, I find it hard to take a guy seriously talking to me about some regulation wearing a toucan hat. I'll be goddamned if I'm going to take it off when I'm running rivers. 

On these trips it's nice to have somebody along that you can really, really depend on. I met Val when I was working at Dinosaur National Monument. We loved to get all gussied up. Her with a parasol and me with a Sergeant Pepper uniform. One of the hardest things for me to do is to understand that we're probably not going to be able to do another river trip together. 

You have to ask the question, if indeed this is my last trip-- which is quite obvious to me-- is it worth dragging five oxygen tanks down here to be in the cold and rain for two days? Was it worth me coming down here having to haul this stuff and have you people do all my work me? Hell yes, it was worth it. 

A river trip in a boat is a magic carpet. It's a ballet, and you can feel in your oars what the river's saying. And that's the part that's really hard for me to give up, that feeling of using all my knowledge and skills to dance a boat on the river. If you're a river runner, if you're a river runner, this is it, man. This is when you want to be out there. 


That's the river. The river can't put itself into our realm of development and cost benefit. It's just a river, and it does what a river does. And if people want to have beautiful natural places like this, then they're going to have to start stepping up. It's not all just running rapids. There is a part of it that we don't talk about a lot, and that's being an advocate for rivers. 

Running rivers is not just taking GoPro pictures or reading a guide book. You have to understand law, and the environment, and threats, and you have to react to that.