08/26/2016

The Pros and Cons of Potential Development in National Parks

4:36 minutes

Yellowstone Canyon, from Shutterstock
Yellowstone Canyon, from Shutterstock

More than 300 million tourists visited US national parks in 2015, a 5 percent increase from the previous year. The National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday last month, and recently President Barack Obama added to the list of protected parks and monuments.

 But with increased popularity comes controversy and management problems.At the Grand Canyon, for example, more visitors has resulted in more interest in development around the park — and more difficulty balancing preservation and tourism.

“The canyon itself accounts for between a half-billion and a billion dollars a year in revenues that spread throughout the regional economy and elsewhere, so it’s good for business,” says Roger Clark, Grand Canyon program director at the Grand Canyon Trust in Flagstaff, Arizona. “And I think it’s good for people, in general, to be able to come to the Grand Canyon, to get out of their self-centeredness and breathe and take a look at the majesty of time.”

On the other hand, a controversial proposal called the Escalade is being pushed by developers. The project would build a tram from the eastern rim of the Grand Canyon, on the Navajo reservation, down to the confluence of the Colorado River and Little Colorado River.

“Any time something is this popular, people are going to want to try and make money on it,” Clark says. “I’m sure the tram would be a profit maker and be very popular. But there is a danger of killing the golden goose.”

The project would move about 10,000 people a day down to the riverside at the bottom of the canyon, a remote and completely undeveloped area that is important to local Native American cultures. It would likely involve building hotels and amenities for all the people who visit.

“The danger is turning this part of the canyon into some kind of theme park,” Clark says. “If it ever gets further than the proposal stage, we almost surely will wind up in court.”

“You have to understand,” Clark continues, “the Grand Canyon is like a desert island. For this to be built would require roads, electrical lines, water, sewage — the whole gamut of what it takes to manage that many people a day. So it would require lots of thinking ahead.”

—Elizabeth Shockman (originally published on PRI.org)

Segment Guests

Roger Clark

Roger Clark is Grand Canyon Program Director at the Grand Canyon Trust in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Segment Transcript

IRA FLATOW: Now it’s time to play Good Thing, Bad Thing–

[MUSIC PLAYING]

–because every story has a flip side. The National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday yesterday. Happy birthday. And this week, President Obama added to that list of protected parks and monuments.

He quadrupled the size of a marine park in Hawaii, and designated the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine. And if you’re a [INAUDIBLE], you know what Katahdin is.

More than 300 million tourists visited the parks in 2015. And that is a 5% increase from the previous year. And Grand Canyon National Park alone hosted 5 and 1/2 million visitors.

At the Grand Canyon, an increase in visitors also means, of course, more interest in development around the park. People want to develop Grand Canyon. Here to bring the good and the bad that could come with the development at the canyon is Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Program Director at the Grand Canyon Trust in Flagstaff, Arizona. Welcome to Science Friday.

ROGER CLARK: Thank you, Ira.

IRA FLATOW: So what is the good news about development projects that want to bring more people and visitors to the Grand Canyon?

ROGER CLARK: Well, certainly the economy is booming around tourism. And the canyon itself accounts for between a half billion and a billion dollars a year in revenues that spread throughout the regional economy and elsewhere. So it’s good for business.

I think it’s good for people in general to be able to come to particularly the Grand Canyon to get out of their self-centeredness and breathe and take a look at just the majesty of time. It’s good to get out of your own self.

And then I think it’s good also in a way that the Park Service is trying to manage it at the park. By and large, they’re doing a good job. But they have this competing mandate to both protect the park and allow it for use and enjoyment. And at times, they don’t always get it right.

But again, I think because so much of the use is concentrated in less than 10% of the park, that’s where most of the impact is. Of course, that creates congestion there. But that means much of the park is still available to explore on foot and to really experience the natural wonders and solitude and quiet of the park.

IRA FLATOW: On the other hand, now there is a proposal called the Escalade that would build a tram to the bottom of the canyon. People really– they want to build. Tell me what that plan is.

ROGER CLARK: Well, any time something’s this popular, people are going to want to try and make money on it. And this is another example of a idea to construct a tram from the eastern rim of the Grand Canyon on the Navajo reservation down to the confluence of the Colorado River and Little Colorado River. So that would move about 10,000 people a day down to riverside in the bottom of the canyon.

And it would, I’m sure, be a profit maker and be very popular. But there’s a danger of killing the golden goose– to take a very remote and completely undeveloped section of the canyon, which is very important to the Native American cultures around the canyon for many reasons– to develop that. So that’s something that would penetrate into the park itself, and if it ever gets further than the proposal stage, would most surely wind up in court.

IRA FLATOW: Does that involve building hotels and things for all the people?

ROGER CLARK: Yeah.

IRA FLATOW: And they’re sort of turning it into a theme park.

ROGER CLARK: Yeah. You have to understand, the Grand Canyon is like a desert island. And for this to be built, it would require roads, electrical lines, water, sewage– the whole gamut of what it takes to manage that many people a day.

And so yeah, indeed, it would require lots of thinking ahead. That many people produce lot of poop. And they haven’t figured that out.

IRA FLATOW: I get it. All right. Well, we’ll see what happens. Happy birthday to you, Roger.

ROGER CLARK: Thank you. Thank you.

IRA FLATOW: Happy birthday to everybody in the national parkland. Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Program Director at the Grand Canyon Trust in Flagstaff, Arizona.

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