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Grand problems at Grand Canyon?

By Ed O'Keefe

The Grand Canyon in June 2009. (John Moore/Getty)

Eye Opener

A series of man-made threats could cause serious problems for Grand Canyon National Park in the coming years, according to a new report by a conservation group.

A new "State of the Parks" report by the National Parks Conservation Association suggests a series of emerging or recurring issues inside and near the 1.5 million acre park could disturb its natural beauty and appeal.

Among the findings:

-- The Colorado River, which cuts through the park, is poorly managed to deal with protecting fish populations, the river flow and cultural and archaeological sites along the river corridor.

-- Popular flights over the park are impacting the park's natural quiet, upsetting park visitors, wildlife and the activities of the park's 11 affiliated American Indian tribes.

-- The potential for new mines near the park and environmental contamination from previous mines are a cause for concern.

-- Air pollution from areas hundreds of miles away has the potential to impact the park's scenic views, damage plants and impact visitor and employee health.

Not surprisingly, the report calls for more money and manpower for the Grand Canyon's ranger staff.

"The resources and assets at Grand Canyon National Park and the National Park Service staff that manage them are both under intense pressure," the report concludes. "Efforts to protect the park are compromised by profound financial shortfalls, legal and political ambiguities that seek to or have the effect of limiting park authority, and external threats that require acknowledgment of the problems and a willingness to confront them."

Grand Canyon Park Supervisor Steve Martin said he generally agrees with the report's findings.

“Certainly we have our hands full with a number of really significant issues," Martin said. "I think that a lot of what we’re doing is trying to work with the administration to educate the new team that they brought in about the significance of these issues and the importance of these issues.”

Grand Canyon is the National Park Service's second-most popular park, with about 4.5 million visitors annually (Great Smoky Mountains Park is the most visited). The National Park Service's 392 parks are experiencing another visitor boom this year, thanks to the economic slump and a series of fee-free weekends.

Interestingly, new technologies are also causing problems for the entire National Park Service: Visitors using video cameras are inching perilously close to animals, other visitors in remote areas are calling park rangers asking them to deliver refreshments, including hot chocolate. Some are venturing too far into parks, wrongly assuming their GPS devices will guide them back.

“Because of having that electronic device, people have an expectation that they can do something stupid and be rescued,” said a Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman told the New York Times.

Park officials should devote more time to the changing behaviors of visitors, but their time is stretched thin by other priorities, Martin said.

"We end up reacting more than acting," to the changes, he said.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

Question of the Week: Last week The Eye reported on Office of Personnel Management workers hoping to learn sign language to communicate with a deaf coworker. What similar acts of generosity of spirit have you witnessed among your colleagues? Send answers to and include your full name, the agency you work for and home town. We may use your answer in Friday's Washington Post.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | August 24, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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I visited the Grand Canyon recently and was struck by the noise - of planes, and cellphone users who had hiked miles to be near the bottom of the gorge. There's a highly commercial walkway facility (on tribal lands) near the western end now, too.
I have mixed feelings about the proposed public transport developments - hate to see even more development, but then, I was there in the off season and didn't experience the crush of summer visitors which would make the necessity clear.
My sister commented a while back that she's unable to go hiking anywhere truly quiet - there's always the noise of airplanes these days. And I have to agree...

Posted by: elizh1 | August 24, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Mail service should continue on Saturdays in December - the busiest time of the year.

Posted by: SummerDreams | August 24, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

I recently visited Yellowstone National Park; I also work for the Federal Government in procurement field. While in the park with relatives we had the opportunity to shop at many gift shops and stores. We noticed that most, if not all, of the merchandise was made in China.

Now being in the procurement field, I am required to follow the Federal Acquisition Rules or (FAR), and the provisions of the Trade Agreement Act or (TAA), which forbids the Federal Government or its Contractors from buying goods from China.

So how can our National Parks system openly promote such a blatant violation of National Law? The amount of merchandise clearly exceeds the TAA minimum requirements to be covered by the Act, and most of the items were of the types that come directly from China unaltered or worked on by American workers?

I sent in an e-mail several weeks ago to the NPS web site but have never been responded to. Are we just turning a blind eye to our tax dollars being sent to China in violation of Federal Law?

Please tell me this is not happening.

I also wondered how it must feel for Chinese citizens to travel here to see the U.S. and buy a gift that says "Made in China"

Posted by: laubachr | August 24, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

I believe NPS gift shops are just concessions. Another company (e.g., ARA) runs them. So NPS is not actually buying anything directly and no government procurement laws with which to comply.

Posted by: nadie1 | August 24, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

I hiked the Grand Canyon one day last October - 7 miles down South Kaibab and 9 miles back up Bright Angel.

I heard not one single plane or helicopter during the entire 7.5 hours that it took to hike down the to the river and back up.

We have much more important things to spend money on right now. If you want to raise user fees, fine. But really, the federal coffers should be closed to goofy suggestions like this. Let's not totally bankrupt the next generation so that nature freaks can keep planes out of the sky.

Posted by: trenda | August 24, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

The oark service can buy goods in china because it contracts out the lodging and the gift stores.

This is not there are different rules on how things are purchased.

Thus if the contractor cant get a profit then they have to control costs which means purchasing the cheapest tuff. If the item isnt available in the US then they are welcome to go overseas to buy it.

Posted by: djp98374 | August 24, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Wow, thats downright scary dude.

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Posted by: itkonlyyou248 | August 25, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

OK this really makes a lot of sense.


Posted by: clermontpc | August 26, 2010 1:25 AM | Report abuse

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