NPCA outlines challenges, opportunities for Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park is easily one of the most popular and well known destinations in the entire U.S. Each year, more than 4.5 million visitors make the journey to visit the park and take part in some of the outdoor adventures it has to offer, including whitewater rafting, hiking, camping, and more. The Canyon is considered one of the great natural wonders of the world, and the spectacular scenery that is the hallmark of the place, is practically unmatched anywhere else on the planet.

With more than 1.2 million acres of land inside the park boundaries, managing and protecting its considerable resources can be an overwhelming challenge. It was with that in mind that earlier this week the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) released its “State of the Park” report that outlines the challenges and opportunities facing the Grand Canyon in the years ahead. That report identifies such threats as mining and air pollution as potential problems, while citing the opportunity for restoring and protecting the natural habitats of native plant and animal species as an area where improvements can be made.

This new report points to a number of external threats that are obstacles to the future health of the Grand Canyon and its surrounding environments. Amongst those threats are air pollution from cities as far away as 100 miles which will have an impact on scenic vistas and possibly the health of visitors. Noise pollution has also become an issue, as the airspace above the canyon is often crowded with traffic with both commercial and scenic flights crossing over head. Perhaps the greatest of these external threats however, is ongoing mining activities in the lands adjacent to the park. Those activities could result in the contamination of both the environment and the watershed in the region, having a detrimental effect that could take decades to reverse.
Not surprisingly, the park is also facing severe financial shortfalls in its operating budget. While this is a common story in these troubled economic times, the NPCA’s report states that the Grand Canyon needs an additional $6.2 million in annual funding just to support the basic day-to-day operations of the park. While that is a large number of course, it pales in comparison to the $300 million in park maintenance that has been backlogged for lack of funds to address the issues.

As a response to their findings, the NPCA is recommending a number of changes to help preserve the park for future generations. For instance, they believe that changes to the flow of the river would help prevent erosion and promote the return of natural resources, including plant and animal life, to the canyon. They also recommend giving the Park Service the authority to manage the airspace above the park, restricting the number of flights that pass over head in an attempt to keep certain areas quiet. Perhaps most important of all, the report requests an act of Congress to permanently protect sensitive lands around the park from all future mining activities.

The national parks have been called “America’s best idea” and the Grand Canyon is chief amongst them. As one of the crown jewels in the entire system, it deserves to be protected and managed for future travelers to enjoy, which is exactly what the NPCA hopes to ensure with this report and its recommendations. There are significant threats to the park’s environment, but by identifying those challenges now and preparing to meet them head on, the Grand Canyon can remain one of the top adventure destinations in the entire world.

To read a summary of the NPCA’s report click here. For the complete 82-page report click here.

[Photo credit: David Jolley via WikiMedia]