National Treasure

January 18, 2019
THE GRAND DIVIDE Grand Canyon National Park celebrates 100 years. Is tourism putting the canyon in danger?
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For Kari Cobb, hiking in the Grand Canyon is a journey through history. At the bottom, the Colorado River flows as it has for 6 million years. Cobb gazes up at the cliff face. She thinks of the indigenous, or native, people who lived in and around the canyon long before the arrival of non-native explorers.

NATURAL WONDER A visitor surveys the Grand Canyon.

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The Grand Canyon stretches across 277 miles of Northern Arizona. “It is massive,” says Cobb. She is a park ranger. “You cannot see all of it. That’s what makes this place so intriguing.”

MAPS BY JOE LEMONNIER FOR TIME FOR KIDS

This year, Grand Canyon National Park celebrates its 100th anniversary. Special events will take place at the park throughout 2019. Vanessa Ceja-Cervantes is the anniversary outreach coordinator. “We hope visitors will connect with the park and learn to be stewards of the land,” she says.

But the Grand Canyon’s popularity makes it hard to protect. In 2017, the park had more than 6 million visitors. Balancing tourism and conservation is a challenge.

Money Matters

Tourism brings much-needed money to American Indians in the area. For example, the Hualapai tribe runs helicopter tours in the park. But the tribe’s main attraction is the Grand Canyon Skywalk. It is a glass-floored walkway that juts out over a cliff’s edge. It draws more than 1 million tourists each year.

HIGHLIGHT Skywalk, at Grand Canyon West, attracts more than a million tourists each year.

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Critics say Skywalk spoils the canyon’s beauty. Helicopter noise shatters its silence. In 2017, tribal chairman Damon Clarke defended the attractions on the Arizona Republic website. They help “fund services for our elders, children, and others in need of support,” he said. He added that any development was done “with respect for the canyon in mind.”

BIRD'S-EYE VIEW Hundreds of helicopters roar through the Grand Canyon every day.

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Tough Choices

To the east of the national park lies the Navajo Nation. Developers wanted to build a tramway, hotels, and restaurants in the area. The issue divided the Navajo community. Some wanted the economic benefits. Others saw the plan as damaging to their culture. They also worried about how it would affect the environment. In February 2018, the Navajo voted against the plan.

Sarana Riggs is a member of the Navajo Nation. “There is always a need for development,” she says. “The question is: How can the Navajo tap into tourism in a sustainable way?”

Millions of tourists visit the Grand Canyon each year. They are bound to have an impact. But Cobb believes they will be inspired to protect the park’s history and beauty. “People who visit national parks love them,” she says.

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