Going out on a high note

2010-12-08T05:00:00Z Going out on a high noteCYNDY COLE Sun Staff Reporter Arizona Daily Sun
December 08, 2010 5:00 am  • 

The head of Grand Canyon National Park for nearly the last four years is retiring at the end of this year.

Steve Martin started in law enforcement on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon in 1975 and became a Park Service administrator, climbing to one of the country's top posts during a career spanning 35 years.

Martin, 58, has been a hands-on manager, and the park has seen a number of changes, big and small, in his term.

They include:

-- A successful push for big water releases from Glen Canyon Dam, to mimic floods and build beaches

-- Re-routing Mather Point parking, and adding more entrance stations to keep traffic flowing

-- Adding bicycle rentals to the South Rim

-- Changes to the backpacker permit system to give faraway hikers the same odds as locals

-- Adding 64 more employee housing units at the South Rim, which had dilapidated housing

-- Adding virtual tours of the Grand Canyon, and broadcasts

-- More paths on the rim for biking, hiking

-- Cutbacks on number/length of mule trips into the Grand Canyon

-- Construction of the park's first certified "green" buildings, and addition of first solar power

-- Excluding jetliner sounds from Grand Canyon's noise limitations under federal law

-- Closing abandoned mines

Kevin Dahl, with the National Parks Conservation Association, said Martin stood apart from other superintendents because he had grit, and he insisted the Park Service have a major say in the operation of Glen Canyon Dam, to make it operate more as scientists recommended.

"I saw him in action at meetings and he didn't back down. He spoke up for the resources of the park," Dahl said.

Blaine Stuart, a current river runner, has a different opinion.

Stuart operates a hiking business, and changes to the reservation system approved under Martin set back Stuart's ability to get required permits to go backpacking with clients in choice locations and on choice dates.

"That really kind of got my goat a little bit," Stuart said. "... It really hurt a lot of local businesses and got in the way of employing a lot of local people."

Wes Neal started Bright Angel Bicycles on the South Rim when the Park Service decided to allow a bike-rental business inside the park, for above-the-rim biking.

Neal hopes that visitors could someday ride a path from Grand Canyon Village all the way to the park's eastern entrance, but he applauds some of the trails that have been added recently on the rim.

"He'll go out on a positive note, for sure," he said of Martin.

A couple of big issues not resolved during Martin's tenure include whether to allow more or fewer tour flights over the Grand Canyon, and whether the federal government should open non-park federal lands (Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management) surrounding the Grand Canyon to be mined for uranium.

Those issues are still churning.

If Martin could set the course for the future, he'd tell the next superintendent that climate change, deteriorating infrastructure, protecting the Grand Canyon, and staying relevant in a time of "nature deficit disorder" are some of the big issues of the day.

He names the challenges of the past and present: Cleaning up the Grand Canyon's air to make it possible to see from rim to rim, bringing back endangered California condors, restoring riverside plants, making the canyon quieter and keeping experienced staff.

"We can't cut so many corners that we start to lose employees who are the heartbeat of these places," Martin said.

Martin might ultimately work in conservation or politics. For now, his family plans to spend time off abroad.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at ccole@azdailysun.com or 913-8607.

Copyright 2015 Arizona Daily Sun. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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