It may sound illogical, but the Grand Canyon is running out of space. They've put a limit on boats at the bottom of the canyon, and restrictions on how low airplanes can fly. Now they want to get rid of cars. The park's superintendent says you'll like it that way.
"You're not going to listen to the background of diesel buses, and Harley Davidsons, and chattering helicopters. In fact, you're going to be able to come to this place and have a much more intimate experience with a great deal the same numbers of people. But the automobile is going to be a thing of the past at Grand Canyon," says Rob Arnberger, Superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park.
About five million people are expected to visit the Grand Canyon this year. Most will get no closer than a few parking lot overlooks, like the one on the South Rim. That puts a whole lot of people in just a few small places. It puts a whole lot of cars in parking lots--six thousand or more a day. This is nearly three times as many cars as places to park them.
The park's new general plan calling for a ban on cars could be a boon for the Grand Canyon Railway. The company wants the park to OK plans for a light rail loop along the South Rim. Marshall Bryant of the Grand Canyon Railway explains, " We would have this train for people who have more time and want to have the nostalgic experience of rails, and light rail units of trains once you got here to get around the park."
There's plenty of space within the National Park that folks can't get to with cars, or trains, or airplanes. Twenty-one thousand people raft down the Colorado River, and perhaps a hundred thousand hike trails within the canyon. But it's the millions up here on the South Rim that threaten the park. Their showers and toilets take water from springs needed for plants and animals.
"Ninety percent of biodiversity in a desert environment like this is in the stream corridors. And animals tend to cluster around it. And the same goes true for all these side canyons we see. And rim development can affect the springs on the side of the rim," says Eric Howard of the Grand Canyon Trust.
Other problems originate outside the canyon. Smog from Los Angeles clouds canyon views. A dam upstream on the Colorado River has changed the river's life, cooling and cleaning its waters and threatening the survival of plants and animals dependent on it.
Forty percent of Grand Canyon's visitors come from overseas. Soon U.S. citizens may have to compete with them for a chance to visit the park. For the first time the Department of Interior is talking about requiring advance reservations along with a hefty new twenty-dollar fee to visit Grand Canyon and other popular National Parks. The American National Park experience has begun to change.