Friday, August 22, 2014

The Grand Canyon is not a theme park

It has been called “America’s Cathedral,” a church without a roof, but apparently nothing, including Grand Canyon National Park, is safe from action that would turn a naturally spiritual experience into a theme park.
    The first proposal to preserve the Grand Canyon was submitted in 1883 by President Benjamin Harrison. President Teddy Roosevelt visited in 1903, but the canyon was not officially designated as a National Park until 1919.
    From the perspective of an airliner at 30,000 feet, the Grand Canyon is jaw dropping for its sheer length, width and depth, an intricate gash that cuts through the flat desert floor courtesy of the Colorado River, something that required eons of time beyond imagining. No matter how familiar the Grand Canyon seems, no matter how many photographs, paintings or video images one has seen, actually standing on the rim slams home the important reminder that the power of the natural world is massive, and we humans are very small in comparison.
    That lesson seems to be lost on some people. The Grand Canyon is being threatened by two projects that ignore any sense of awe and humility in favor of profit and hubris.
    An Italian company has taken control of the tiny settlement of Tusayan, located on the South Rim of the Canyon. A handful of people lived there until representatives of the company incorporated it into a city with the power to annex. Now they are proposing to develop several thousand homes. Water for the homes would be taken from ground water. That threatens to dry up oases in the canyon.
    The Grand Canyon Escalade plan is even more jarring. R. Lamar Whitmer wants to build a 1.4-mile cable car that would carry an estimated 4,000 passengers per day to the floor of the canyon. Supporters argue that many people cannot walk or ride a burro to the bottom and should be afforded that opportunity. Apparently the restaurants, hotel and shops that are also planned are necessary for those worn out by their gondola ride.
    These kinds of proposals actually receive official hearings and move through legal and political processes as if desecrating a holy place is just one more legitimate option. Officials should simply dismiss both proposals, and any of the others that pop up in the minds of those who see America’s protected wilderness areas as business opportunities.
    The Grand Canyon is sacrosanct. Full stop.

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