What if the Grand Canyon were private? An alternate future for the park.

 

In the beginning, you didn't need any permits. OK, that's a slight exaggeration. Even back in the halcyon days of the 1960s, permits were required to backpack in Grand Canyon, but they weren't a big deal. We would drive up after school and bang on the door of park headquarters, whereupon a ranger would clamber down the stairs and hand us a permit.

Cue the back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s. Backpacking was the rage, and one Easter weekend over 1,000 people camped at Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Creek. The Park Service decided it was time to refine the backcountry permitting process. Permits were restricted, group size was limited and campfires banned. Fees were charged for camping, and over time, the system was tweaked to adjust for increasing visitation and unforeseen difficulties. Yet all this was never enough: The Grand Canyon backcountry management plan is now undergoing its first overhaul since 1988.

Inevitably, flak is flying from backcountry users. Controversial proposals include limits on rim-to-rim and rim-to-river runner-hikers by requiring permits that cost $5 per person per day. Commercial outfitters could be granted permits one year in advance, as opposed to the four-month window available for the hoi polloi. Campers in the Colorado River zone could be required to pack out their own wastes in what are called "wag bags." Culturally sensitive areas might be closed to visitors.

In certain circles, it is generally believed that the Park Service is simply out to thwart backcountry users. Day treks, the purists proclaim, should never be constrained. Commercial outfitters are commandeering all the permits! No areas need be closed to visitation -- ever.

The Skywalk at the Grand Canyon.

In the early 1900s, Ralph Cameron, a local prospector, agreed with those sentiments. Cameron boasted that he owned over 1,000 mining claims within Grand Canyon. He was not, however, searching for minerals. He wanted land. He blackmailed the Santa Fe Railroad into paying him $40,000 to cross "his" property and sought investors for various developments. Nor was he deterred by the designation of Grand Canyon National Park in 1919. In 1920, Cameron took his case for owning and developing park property to the Supreme Court -- and lost. What would have happened, one wonders, had he won that case? Here's one scenario:

"Welcome to Cameron Land™! Whether you wish to take a cog railway ride down to the Colorado River or a gondola to a soaring summit, we have the perfect family vacation for you.

"History: Ralph Cameron, our founder, successfully protected the rights of the individual against an overbearing federal government when he won the rights to develop his mining claims within Grand Canyon. In 1920, he began construction of the cog railway, which allows every American to reach the mighty Colorado River in comfort. Mr. Cameron also provided funicular gondolas to the summits of some of our most exciting buttes, such as Zoroaster and Shiva temples.

"Mr. Cameron was not behindhand with the advent of the automobile. The Bright Angel Toll Road was widened and improved to permit visitors to drive their own vehicles to our sumptuous lodge located at Indian Garden on the scenic Tonto Plateau. There, you and your family may luxuriate in hot springs fed and warmed by our natural uranium deposits. The adventurous traveler may also rent an all-terrain vehicle to explore the Tonto Trail and enjoy the unsurpassed view from Plateau Point.

"Rent a houseboat or try water-skiing on glamorous Lake Steiger, backed up behind the mighty Pete Berry Dam. Try the John Hance Waterslide, a dazzling 1,400-foot drop to our luxurious beach resort located on the Colorado River.

"Craving excitement? Try our bungee jump from Maricopa Point, or the zip line from Hopi Point to Grand Canyon Village. Or take the railroad hugging the Canyon Rim. Don't forget to order the DVD of your bungee jump!

"Cameron Land™ abuts the mostly undeveloped Grand Canyon National Park. If our visitors venture too closely to the boundary, they may be subjected to glares from antisocial liberal tree-huggers, who think that wilderness is an elitist destination reserved for those who walk in under their own power. Ignore them. The electrified fence will keep them at bay. Cameron Land™ is a subsidiary of Private Investments LLC, buying up American wild lands for 100 years."

Happily, we dodged that bullet, but the pressures on places like Grand Canyon National Park to develop, accommodate expanded uses and commercialize has grown ever stronger. Find out more about the park's new backcountry management plan and draft environmental impact statement at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/. The plan is open for comments until March 4, 2016.

Marjorie "Slim" Woodruff is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. She is an educator in Grand Canyon National Park.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • EVENTS AND ANNUAL FUND COORDINATOR
    The Events and Annual Fund Coordinator is responsible for managing and coordinating the Henry's Fork Foundation's fundraising events for growing the membership base, renewing and...
  • EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Position Description: The Education Director is the primary leader of Colorado Canyons Association's (CCA) education programs for students and adults on the land and rivers...
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...