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Monday, October 2, 2023

Conserving the Cultural Wonder of the Grand Canyon

When you think of Arizona, what comes to mind? For most people, there’s a hint in our nickname: The Grand Canyon State. Whether you’re a local or just visiting, there’s no denying the influence of this iconic Southwestern landmark. With a lasting legacy that spans across centuries of history, the preservation of Grand Canyon National Park is mainly supported through the work of the Grand Canyon Conservancy, the park’s official nonprofit partner.

“Our mission is to inspire generations of park champions to support the natural cultural wonder of the Grand Canyon,”  said Mindy Reisenberg, CDMP, the director of marketing and communications of the Conservancy. She described the Grand Canyon Conservancy as the official philanthropic nonprofit collaborative partner of Grand Canyon National Park.

Since 1932, the Grand Canyon Conservancy has protected this beloved National Park, and in 2022, the Conservancy is celebrating 90 years of operation and dedication. The Conservancy reaches millions of visitors a year through various initiatives, outreaches and opportunities, including Grand Canyon National Park’s various gift shops.

“If [visitors] want to support our work within the park, we run stores at the Canyon. If you shop in our retail stores, the proceeds we receive from that go back into Grand Canyon National Park,” Reisenberg said. This is a great opportunity for the park’s millions of visitors each year to help pay it forward for future generations.

“We support Grand Canyon National Park in every way that the government has not,” Reisenberg said. She explained that each national park is allocated a certain amount of money annually by the federal government, based on size. “The Grand Canyon probably is on the top end of that, but that is generally [allocated to] infrastructure … [such as] roads and repairs. Pretty much everything else that happens at the park is funded by the members of the Grand Canyon Conservancy, Reisenberg said. This would include initiatives such as trail restoration, education programming, protective measures for local flora and fauna, historic building preservation and preventative search and rescue.

The Grand Canyon Conservancy’s current priority is the redevelopment of the Desert View Intertribal Cultural Heritage Site. The Conservancy is working closely with Grand Canyon National Park to breathe new life into the area, located on the east end of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

“It’s going to be a site that is kind of led by the 11 tribes that are traditionally associated with Grand Canyon National Park,” Reisenberg said. This would include the Havasupai Tribe (Arizona), the Hopi Tribe (Arizona), the Hualapai Tribe (Arizona), the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians (Arizona), the Las Vegas Band of Paiute Indians (Nevada), the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians (Nevada), the Navajo Nation (Arizona), the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, the San Juan Southern Paiute (Arizona), the Pueblo of Zuni (New Mexico) and the Yavapai-Apache Nation (Arizona). Through this project, the Conservancy and Grand Canyon National Park seek to “address the historic inequities that were faced by Native Americans during the creation of the national parks,” Reisenberg said. “[The tribes] were forced out of their land, forcibly removed from their land by the National Park System, to create [Grand Canyon] National Park.”

Alongside the Grand Canyon Conservancy and Grand Canyon National Park is an intertribal working group, with representatives from each tribe to “bring back muted voices to Grand Canyon and to create some new pathways for cultural economic opportunities for the tribes at Grand Canyon.”

Trail maintenance, another aspect of Grand Canyon National Park that Grand Canyon Conservancy covers, requires ongoing upkeep. This is due to the park’s popularity and the quick and dramatic weather changes typical of the Arizona desert. “You could start out in snow and be down with sunshine and warmth in the bottom [of the Canyon],” Reisenberg said. Thankfully, the Conservancy supplies funding to ensure that the park’s trails remain accessible for all.

Grand Canyon National Park has faced several ecological threats throughout the years. Dark sky preservation continues to be a focus of the Conservancy’s attention. As a result of their combined efforts in 2019, the Grand Canyon Conservancy was officially named an International Dark Sky Park.

“We have some of the most pristine dark skies on the planet,” Reisenberg said. “You can see the Milky Way at night.” She attributes this to the eventual lessening of light pollution on the Grand Canyon’s rim, which makes the stars much easier for the naked eye to see.

A recent documentary by QMedia for the Azulita Project, “Evidence of Us,” centers around the degradation of the Grand Canyon over time from various sources. The Azulita Project, a Flagstaff-based organization, aims to fight plastic pollution however possible. The film “reveals the long shadow of pollution, overconsumption and waste cast by plastic use,” according to the Azulita Project’s website. “From the bottom of the Grand Canyon to our oceans to our own backyards, this [documentary] questions what it means to be good stewards of our shared home.”

Welcoming about 5-million visitors a year, the individual impact of your footprint at Grand Canyon National Park matters more than you might think. Reisenberg offered some tips to help visitors do their part to help conserve the Grand Canyon and other natural sites:

  • Be respectful of the Canyon itself — we want to keep this as pristine as possible.
  • Be mindful of nature, animals and the severity of weather changes. In order to preserve what they are, you need to keep your distance because they can hurt you.
  • Be respectful of how difficult the Canyon can be. Read up before you hike — (the National Park Service’s online guide “Hike Smartis a great resource).

If you’re interested in more information about the Grand Canyon Conservancy, or if you’d like to become a member, visit grandcanyon.org.


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