The Grand Canyon can't wait for long-term planning to deal with crowding problems, says Boyd Evison, interim superintendent at the park. He has proposed a reservation system for park visitors. It could be set up by 1995 and doesn't require authorization from Congress.
"The only way to
maintain a positive experience without trampling the park is to
institute per-car reservations during high-use periods," Evison
Currently, reservations are required for
everything from motel rooms and camping to mule rides and raft
trips. But this would be the first time a national park would
require reservations just to get in the gate. But Evison says it
wouldn't be as tough as turning away visitors when the park fills
up - something that happens in Yosemite on busy
The proposal has drawn fire from a few
Arizonans who like the freedom of popping up to the canyon on short
notice. And some local businesses worry that reservations will
drive tourists elsewhere. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., believes that
reservations should be a last option.
of a 15-year management plan, due out in the fall, will consider
other options to deal with crowding. Visitors may have to leave
their cars outside the park and use mass-transit systems to get
around (HCN, 11/29/93). But these ambitious plans would take years
to implement, Evison says.
"Even if we had all
the money that would be required to run a transportation system, if
we had it now, it would take probably five years to get it
operating." Over that time, he says, visitation is expected to
climb from 5 to 7 million people a year.
Park Service does not have the money now and probably won't in the
future, "unless there's a tremendous turn-around in the economy,"
says Evison. He has given up on Congress and is beginning to look
At Evison's request, the non-profit
Grand Canyon National History Association hired a California-based
consultant, John Whaley, to study private funding for the park.
It's not the first time that the National Park Service has gone to
private sources for money, says Bob Koons, the Natural History
Association director. The Yosemite Fund gathers money from a
variety of individual and corporate donors. High-profile soliciting
campaigns also helped restore Mt. Rushmore and the Statue of
Liberty. Whaley was involved in the Statue of Liberty campaign in
Most of the money would be for
big-ticket capital improvement projects, according to Koons, such
as light-rail or clean-burning buses. But some money might be
pooled for general use. Park spokeswoman Maureen Ultragge has a
list of everyday park operations that suffer from underfunding,
including roads and trails, visitor services and interpretive
programs, restrooms and plumbing.
environmental groups worry about conflicts of interest. Roger
Clark, conservation director for Grand Canyon Trust, says private
funding is a fine idea if it doesn't jeopardize "park qualities and
visitor experience, including freedom from commercialization. We
have to beware of schlock in the park," he says. "Imagine signs at
the overlooks: "This View Brought to You by CitiBank.'
Koons stresses that the process is still in the
exploratory phase. He hopes funding will come from firms and
individuals whose interests are compatible with the interests of
the National Park Service, and he expects that they will be
"acknowledged in a way that does not confer
But is this an easy sell? "With the
Statue of Liberty you could show people an arm ready to fall off,"
Koons says, "but how do you get them to feel an emotional appeal so
they're willing to help the Grand Canyon?"
Grand Canyon National Park begins moving through the untested
waters of reservations and private funding, other national parks in
similar straits will be watching. Boyd Evison says that "Grand
Canyon is seen in other quarters of the National Park Service as
having potential for model programs."
information requests or comments to Boyd Evison, Superintendent,
National Park Service, P.O. Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ
Ernie Atencio is a
former HCN intern. He currently studies anthropology and writes in