Visitors come to the Grand Canyon to see one of the natural wonders of the world. They stand in awe on its rim, they hike its many trails, and they thrill to running the rapids on the Colorado River. Of course, all know they are within one of the country’s greatest national parks, and all have high expectations that it is preserved in perpetuity as a natural wonder in its natural state. We assume laws and management practices in place will insure that protection. And so it is meant to be. Grand Canyon National Park was established by statute in 1919 and significantly enlarged in 1975.
However, protection of this wonder does not come easily. Two factors constantly threaten the wellbeing of the park: the press of public visitation, and the impacts from various uses of adjacent lands and of the Colorado River.
Five million visitors per year is a very big number. Their impacts are as various and multifaceted as human nature can make them. Handling and taking care of this multitude without ruining the park is a constant challenge. Moreover, politics and money constantly intrude; the five million, multiplied by all the supporting services, amount to a lot of votes, and five million people spending lots of dollars is a huge attraction to those who can direct the flow of large amounts of that money to themselves.
The Park Service is caught in the middle: its objective is to manage this multitude without impairing the natural and scenic values of the park. This involves a legal framework – laws and regulations with teeth – well-founded interpretations, and determined use of park management authority.
Thankfully, there is an advocate whose only real objective is to protect Grand Canyon in its natural state: the public, and more particularly the individuals and non-profit organizations who fight for our environment. Bottom line: They are the advocates who can be counted on to defend the park from abuse and despoliation year-after-year. A primary weapon – and all too frequently the only immediately available weapon – in this effort is environmental law, lawyers and courts using laws passed to protect this amazing resource.