Next week Navajo lawmakers are voting on the “Grand Canyon Escalade” project. According to the New York Times, the only agenda item for the special session on Tuesday is the plan to build a gondola from the rim to the floor of the Grand Canyon. This gondola is similar to the 8 person gondolas at places such as Kicking Horse, BC. The tramway in this project will be 1.4 miles long, and descend 3,200 ft, from the rim of the Grand Canyon above The Confluence, where the Little Colorado river, meets the Colorado river. Assuming the same rate of downlift as these gondolas have rate of uplift in the winter, that would mean that 1200 people per hour would be able to visit the bottom of the Grand Canyon, a place once known only to the most avid rafters and members of the Navajo Nation.
As you can imagine, there is some opposition. A quick look brings up at least two separate groups dedicated to stopping the project, on environmental, and spiritual grounds. Much like the Jumbo Glacier project here in British Columbia, there seems to be a groundswell of opinion against the the Grand Canyon Escalade, with celebrity endorsements from people such as Robert Redford. The Navajo Council is seen as wanting to take land away from the people that was only just given back. The Bennett freeze prohibited development of any kind on this land, stopping the Navajo from being able to use their land. It was lifted in 2009 by Barack Obama, and since then the members of the nation have been attempting to use their own land.
The Grand Canyon Escalade company, on it’s website, says that the project is leasing a portion of the 420 acre area, for construction. It is leasing from the Navajo Nation, who will have areas set aside marked as culturally significant for prayer and other ceremonies. There is also a non-compete clause, which essentially gives the Navajo Nation hospitality company first refusal on Hotel and store sites within the project. It also claims that the project will be less environmentally detrimental to the immediate area than the current multiple small uncontrolled encroachments into the area, as it will corral visitors within a controlled area.
Which ever side you believe is right, we can all relate to the positives and negatives this type of project. We are increasingly seeing more and more controlled tourism within our mountains as well, stemming from a movement of people looking for natural experiences but with some of the comforts and ease of city life. We can all agree this means more connection with nature, and more awareness of environmental issues. The other side to this coin is, however, developments such as the Grand Canyon Escalade, Jumbo Glacier, and the Sea to Sky gondola in Squamish, BC, and their environmental, impacts on the local area, and the sacred places of it’s indigenous peoples.
This is not about one development, as much as for those who live there, it is. The question is this. How do we give access to these amazing places to as many people as possible, so that they can see the benefit in looking after them, without desecrating them in the process?
Answers on a postcard, please.