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
  • DISTRICT MANAGER
    The San Juan Islands Conservation District is seeking applicants for the District Manager position. The position is open until filled and application plus cover letter...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Time Arts, a Bozeman-based nonprofit, is seeking an Executive Director. MTA advocates for and produces public artworks that advance social & environmental justice in...
  • BEND AREA HOME WITH AMAZING CASCADE PEAKS VIEW
    Enjoy rural peacefulness and privacy with one of the most magnificent Cascade Mountain views in sunny Central Oregon! Convenient location only eight miles from Bend's...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • RESEARCH FELLOW (SOUTHWESTERN U.S. ENERGY TRANSITION)
    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust is seeking a full-time Fellow to conduct topical research...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • ONCE OR TWICE
    A short historical novel set in central Oregon based on the the WWII Japanese high altitude ballon that exploded causing civilian casualties. A riveting look...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • HOUSE FOR SALE
    Rare mountain property, borders National Forest, stream nearby. Pumicecrete, solar net metering, radiant heat, fine cabinets, attic space to expand, patio, garden, wildlife, insulated garage,...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Want to organize people to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life with Northern Plains Resource Council? Apply now-...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGER
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is hiring an energetic and motivated Conservation Manager to develop and complete new conservation projects and work within...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -