A government report on proposed camping and lodging development on the Grand Canyon's lesser-visited North Rim lists alternatives ranging from no changes to construction of a 100-room lodge and adding 50 campsites.
The proposed additional accommodations would allow more North Rim visitors to spend the night rather than just visit the remote area for the day. However, the report also lists some drawbacks to such increased development.Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Jack Davis said last week the National Park Service has not made a final decision and was seeking public comment on the five alternatives.
But he said the proposed lodge and additional camping space remains his preference, because of increased demand for lodgings and conditions of the existing accommodations.
"It certainly is my favorite at this point," Davis said. "The public-comment process, however, lets us adjust our favorite. If we get reaction that tells us we're off base, it isn't necessarily where our final decision will be."
The North Rim, which an estimated 400,000 people visit annually, has 83 campsites and 201 lodging units, including 40 motel-type rooms but mostly rustic cabins built in the 1920s.
Most North Rim visitors don't spend the night, many only because they are turned away when the campsites and other accommodations are full during the busy summer months, the report said. The adjacent Kaibab National Forest has an additional 57 lodging units and 205 campsites, but they also often are full.
Consequently, the North Rim, which could be assumed to be a destination for visitors because of the four- to five-hour drive from major highways, is becoming more a day use area, the report said.
The North Rim gets less than 10 percent of the park's annual total of 4 million visitors. Motorists' access to the area from the south is restricted by the Grand Canyon itself, a mile-deep, 200-mile-long gorge created by the Colorado River. To the north lies sparsely populated areas of southern Utah.
The South Rim, on the other hand, is easily accessible to visitors arriving by air, rail and interstate highway. The South Rim has 920 lodging units but also is within easy driving range of several motel-rich communities.
The five alternatives analyzed in the "draft supplemental environmental statement" issued this month by the Park Service are:
- No action, leaving the North Rim with the 201 lodging units and 83 campsites.
- Building a 100-room, two-building lodge and a new restaurant and adding 50 campsites.
- Building 80 new lodging units in 20 fourplex cabins along with a restaurant and 50 additional campsites.
- Adding 80 campsites but no new lodging units.
- Making changes in roads and parking areas "to reduce congestion and enhance the visual and historic values of the lodge environs."
The report said adopting the no-changes alternative would preserve the current visitor experience but allow traffic congestion to worsen. Also, competition for limited food service will increase, the report said.
In contrast, adopting the alternative calling for the 100-room lodge and additional campsites would result in loss of 560 trees, including 44 mature trees of 24 or more inches in diameter, the report said. Major visual changes will occur in the North Rim Inn area from the introduction of two-story motel units and a restaurant. These structures will not be visible from (inside) the Grand Canyon, it added.
The report's analysis of the alternatives calling for only additional campsites or additional campsites plus more cabins said they would require the removal of 467 and approximately 600 trees, respectively.
The report was ordered by the Park Service in 1988 after the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit contending that the park hadn't studied the development matter adequately and obtained a court order blocking construction of a new North Rim hotel.
The Park Service's decision to conduct the report left the suit in limbo, Sierra Club attorney Mark Hughes said at the time. His office said late Friday he had gone for the day and was unavailable for comment on the report.
However, another environmental group, the Wilderness Society, on Friday condemned the Park Service's preference to expand accommodations on the North Rim.
"We need less honky tonk in our national parks, not more," said Gaylord Nelson, a former U.S. senator from Wisconsin and now the Wilderness Society's counselor. "We should have the wisdom to leave one of these spots relatively undisturbed."
Nelson also said the park service's approach was "the latest example of the increasingly cozy relationship between the Park Service and the concessioners."
Davis, asked to comment on Nelson's criticism, said, "My own personal reaction is that he's way off base in that if one will look at our previous planning documents, it was the National Park Service which was calling for improved concession facilities for a long time. It has nothing to do with a cozy relationship with concessioners."
Davis added that he hoped the Wilderness Society "and other organizations and individuals would carefully review the plan and give us their reasoned comment on the plan during the public comment period."
The Park Service plans to hold public meetings on the report in February and set a March 29 date for public comment.
Davis said a final decision on North Rim development could come as early as midsummer but that late summer or next fall was more likely.
"A lot depends on how much public comment and how much analysis we have to do," he said.