Should We Allow Development in the Grand Canyon?
Our nation’s natural cathedral is under siege.
Author Kevin Fedarko wrote in Sunday’s New York Times about two major development threats that would devastate the canyon’s wild nature and utterly unique visitor experience. In the story, Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers, calls the projects a “sacrilege” that would harm a national treasure, a wild place essential to our identity as Americans.
Two years ago, I stood at the confluence of the Colorado River and the turquoise blue Little Colorado, where developers have proposed the “Grand Canyon Escalade Project” — featuring a gondola system to ferry thousands of tourists a day from the canyon rim down to the river’s edge, as well as a restaurant, elevated walkway, and an amphitheater. It’s hard to imagine the noise and scars the project would bring to this peaceful place considered sacred by many in the Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo tribes.
Developers argue that the project will create more access to the canyon. But as Bob Irvin points out in the Times, there’s already plenty of access for all ages, abilities, and interests, and if we allow this and other developments, we risk killing the very qualities that draw people to the canyon to begin with.
“We have multiple ways for people of all ability levels to experience the canyon, whether it’s taking a slow trip on the river, riding one of the burros, hiking the trails, or even flights or helicopters,” said Bob Irvin, president of the conservation group American Rivers. “But if we start building gondolas and other forms of development, we lose much of what makes the Grand Canyon so special. It would be a devastation, a sacrilege, to build that structure there.”
The Grand Canyon is a national treasure, and it is the engine of the local economy. Community and tribal leaders have a legitimate interest in exploring the economic opportunities that this remarkable resource offers. In fact, gateway communities around the canyon already take in five hundred million tourist dollars annually.
But the world is full of sad examples of natural wonders and cultural treasures despoiled when tourism and development interests go too far. Thus, climbers summiting Mt. Everest find garbage dumps, travelers on safari in the Serengeti encounter traffic jams, and visitors to the Manassas Battlefield find houses and businesses encroaching.
What’s the value of keeping a wild place like Grand Canyon wild? As it turns out, it’s tremendous. And, of course, there are some things we can’t put a price tag on, and they’re often the most important. That is why it is so vital to stop these over-the-top projects. As Kevin Fedarko writes,
Conservationists often lament the inherent unfairness of fights like this. Whenever a developer is defeated, nothing prevents other developers from stepping forward, again and again. But for those who love wilderness, the loss of a single battle can mean the end of the war, because landscapes that fall to development will never return.
If you care about places like the Grand Canyon, there’s something inherently wrong about that. But there may be something reaffirming about it, too, because these threats call upon us to reassert our conviction, as a nation, that although wilderness is an asset whose worth may be difficult if not impossible to quantify, without it, we would be immeasurably poorer.
Every 15 or 20 years, it seems, the canyon forces us to undergo a kind of national character exam. If we cannot muster the resources and the resolve to preserve this, perhaps our greatest natural treasure, what, if anything, are we willing to protect?
Here’s our chance. Let’s reaffirm our commitment to wilderness, to the wild Grand Canyon. American Rivers is working with local partners such as the Grand Canyon Trust to save this special place.
Please sign our petition to stop inappropriate development that harms the Grand Canyon. And then, learn more about the Grand Canyon through our Google Street View project.