A new construction project being proposed for the eastern rim of the Grand Canyon has conservationists, members of the Navajo tribe, and nature lovers across the United States up in arms.
The project, known as the Grand Canyon Escalade, would create a large tourist area on the rim of the Canyon, complete with shops, restaurants, and hotels. It would also boast a tramway that would take visitors on a gondola ride to the canyon floor. There, they would access a riverwalk with an ampitheatre and another restaurant.
Proponents of the development argue that the project would allow visitors unprecedented access to the Canyon basin, an area they argue is currently inaccessible to less adventuresome tourists. They also say it will create more jobs and revenue for the Navajo people, who control the 420 acres and who are desperate for an economic boost.
Protestors of the plans, however, say the project would be built on sacred lands and endanger the resources and ecosystem of the fragile Canyon. They also say that the Grand Canyon is a national treasure, one which would be irrevocably blighted by the construction of such a tourist complex.
The proposed development would be built at the site known as the Confluence, where the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers meet.
The development on the rim will include retail and gift shops, fast food and finer dining restaurants, a museum, a hotel and multiple motels, a lodge with a patio, and ample parking for both cars and RVs, according to the Grand Canyon Escalade's website.
The developers argue that the Grand Canyon is a currently 'drive-by' tourist attraction and that many visitors wish they could access the basin or bottom of the Canyon more easily. To remedy this, developers wish to create a 1.4-mile tramway that would shuttle an expected 4,000 visitors to the bottom per day.
At the basin, the proposed 1,900-foot long Confluence River Walk would boast a sculpture garden, a large ampitheatre, a restaurant, gift shops, and public bathrooms.
The project would be projected to bring in 3,200 new jobs and 8% of gross revenues to the Navajo tribe, but it is also thought by some to be one of the biggest crises faced by the National Park in its 95 years of existence.
While Navajo officials are considering the project, many people in the Tribe say the sacred land would be ruined. Ranae Yellowhorse of the Navajo told the LA Times, 'That's where our spirits go back to. My father passed away last March. That's where he resides. If there is a development there, where are our prayers going to go?'
Other critics point to the Canyon's natural beauty. In a recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Kevin Fedarko writes that the development an 'annulment of a space whose value resides not in its accessibility to the masses, but precisely the reverse. It is a violation of the very thing that makes the space holy.'
Confluence Partners, LLC, the company that is pushing for the development, has countered by saying that the plans are tiny in comparison to existing developments, such as Grand Canyon Village or Phantom Ranch.
'Grand Canyon Escalade is 420 Acres. Grand Village is 8,576 acres. The developed area of both are shown at the proposed location of Grand Canyon Escalade. Grand Canyon Village is 4 times larger than Escalade,' says the Grand Canyon Escalade website.
They also argue that, according to an official list of sacred sites for the Navajo, the Confluence is never listed as hallowed land. Furthermore, they argue, commercial raft rides down the river often stop at the Confluence unchecked and are never seen as encroaching on sacred areas.
We will have to wait at least another year for the final verdict on the project. A decision on it has been delayed a year because the proposal did not make the agenda of the Navajo Nation Council, the legislative body which will have final say on approving the plan.
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