The National Parks Conservation Association is an organization dedicated to protecting America’s national parks and ensuring that they remain the amazing environments that we all know and love, so that future generations have the opportunity to enjoy them too. Recently, the NPCA released their State of the Park report on the Grand Canyon, which outlines some of the challenges that that park faces, while also turning a spotlight on the opportunities for protecting it as well.
The Grand Canyon is one of America’s first national parks, and it is certainly amongst the most iconic as well. Each year, more 4.5 million visitors, both foreign and domestic, travel to the park, which encompasses more than 1.2 million acres of land in Arizona. The place is a mecca for both adventure travelers and tourists alike, with many drawn in because of the spectacular scenery and options for outdoor fun, which includes hiking, paddling, camping, and much more.
In the report, the NPCA points to some serious threats to the future of the Grand Canyon National Park, including mining activities on the park borders, increased air pollution (coming from cities more than 100 miles away!), and one that I hadn’t even considered –noise pollution. The threat from mining and air pollution are fairly self explanatory, as they can directly affect the health of the environment, including the plants and animals that live there and the visitors to the park. Noise pollution, on the other hand, is one of those things that you don’t necessarily think about, but can still ruin the solitude and peacefulness that you feel while in a remote place. In the case of the Grand Canyon, the noise pollution is a result of so many commercial and scenic flights passing over head, having an adverse effect on those on the ground.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to the park operating as it should comes from the lack of funding that it is receiving. Considering the current state of the economy, this should be much of a surprise I suppose, but the NPCA says that the National Park Service could use an additional $6.2 million in its annual budget just to cover the park’s day-to-day functions. Even more eye opening is the fact that there is a backlog of maintenance issues that is estimated to require $300 million to address. That is an awfully big hole to try to climb out of in an era when budgets are being cut across the board.
The report also cites some great opportunities to improve the natural environment in the park and protect the plants and animals that live there. Amongst the suggestions for protecting the Canyon is the suggestion that corrections to the course of the Colorado River may need to be made to help prevent the degradation of resources along its banks. Those changes would help to create a more sustainable environment moving forward, which can only be a good thing for the long term health of the park.
Other suggestions for improvements include allowing the Park Service to have direct control over the airspace above the Canyon, which would allow them to limit the number of aircraft in the area, thus reducing the noise level. There are also plans to declare the backcountry a wilderness area, which would help protect it more fully, while also annexing threatened lands that surround the park though an act of Congress. Increased permanent funding and more research on the impact of climate change are amongst the other suggestions as well.