The Grand Canyon and its surrounding national park have been under government protection for nearly a century, but as you read these words, a war is brewing. Two massive development projects are slated to begin as early as 2016, and Rodger Clark of the Grand Canyon Trust says that one of these developments is “hands down the greatest threat in a generation.” So what exactly are these development projects, and how big is the real threat to Grand Canyon wilderness? We dug deep to find the truth.
One of the two projects is a lavish housing and retail development larger than the famous-for-being-huge Mall of America. This development would build 2,200 homes in the miniscule town of Tusayan, effectively quintupling its current population of 573. Since this tow lies just south of the Grand Canyon National Park, it’s plain to see why this would cause issues for those seeking passage into the canyon.
The other project is the Grand Canyon Escalade, a gondola system capable of moving 10,000 visitors to the bottom of the canyon and back every day. With a price tag of $1 billion and plans for a surrounding assortment of shops, Grand Canyon hotels, and restaurants, this development would ruin what is now one of the most popular and striking stretches of untouched Grand Canyon vista.
Damaging developments aren’t contained to the popular South Rim, however. The more luxurious and authentic North Rim is being considered for a large uranium mining operation, and if the Arizona judge considering lifting the mining ban does so, the North Rim could be devastated. While unlikely, it’s not unheard of for judges to lift long-enforced bans. As recently as 2012, a ban was lifted allowing a surge of helicopter tours.
“In terms of the overall wilderness and the character of the Grand Canyon, the Escalade gondola is hands down the greatest threat in a generation,” was Clark’s full statement, and he’s not the only Grand Canyon official that predicts a grim outcome. Sinjin Eberle of American Rivers, a national nonprofit, expressed that, “The Grand Canyon has never been exposed to so many threats at one time. This should be one of the most protected places on Earth, and instead it’s going up for sale to the highest bidder.”
So why isn’t this development being stopped? Surprisingly enough, those in charge have a few good reasons. R. Lamar Whitmer, managing partner of Confluence Partners, the company in charge of the gondola development, says, “Seeing the canyon from the floor is just as amazing as seeing it from the rim. But the average visitor doesn’t have the time to hike or ride a mule or spend the thousands of dollars for a river trip to see it from the bottom.”
Navajo officials and developers want the project to go ahead as planned, bringing thousands of well-paying jobs and economic development to a now-barren area. Opposing them are preservationists and those that rely on existing Grand Canyon services and establishments like the Grand Canyon Skywalk, another controversial project.
But where do you stand on the issue? Let us know in the comments section below and make your voice heard!