A recent editorial suggested that the proposal to more than double entrance fees at the Grand Canyon, to $70 per vehicle, was duplicitous at best. I agree, but no more so than when park officials tout the notion that this is for a seven-day pass, even though their own estimate of visitation presumes that the average length of stay at the South Rim is between 4 hours, for visitors arriving by train from Williams, to 16 hours, for visitors arriving at the South Entrance or at Desert View. Perhaps visitors would be well-advised to save some money by stopping in Tusayan and watching the IMAX movie, eschewing an actual visit to the South Rim?

We should all recognize that these fees, if they are approved, will represent at best a temporary fix. Will anyone be surprised when a few years pass and once again we are faced with yet another “crisis” at the canyon? Instead, let’s use this opportunity to reevaluate the role of the National Park Service and look for long-run sustainable solutions.

The single best way to make improvements is to privatize as much as possible at the Grand Canyon. That is difficult because government bureaucracies loath the idea of giving up power and control. That’s why we get especially absurd outcomes like “closing” the park when political factions wrangle over the federal government’s budget, as occurred back in 2013. Here are three specific recommendations.

First, lease out the water distribution rights at the canyon. Why should the park have to plan, finance and build this system, currently estimated to cost over $150 million? Let the private sector run this operation, where they will price the water accordingly and will not have to deal with constant leakages the way that the NPS does. Indeed, we can promote competition here by allowing an additional source be used by a different private provider.

Second, privatize the three major campgrounds in the canyon – at Indian Garden, Bright Angel and Cottonwood. Make maintenance for the corresponding trails (Bright Angel, South Kaibab and North Kaibab) their responsibility. This would also relieve the Park Service from continuing with its plans to charge day hikers for using these trails. I would also encourage the development of additional campgrounds, and trail improvements, at Hermit Creek, Horseshoe Mesa and Tanner Rapids.

Third, push the park boundary closer to the rim, if not right to the rim. The NPS need not concern itself with the problems of the urban environment of the South Rim Village with regard to trash collection, housing, roads, policing, etc. Let the Village incorporate and govern itself, or let the county impose its own set of standards here. This will allow for increased private development in other areas along the rim that will improve the quality of the visitor experience – Hermit’s Rest, Grandview and Desert View to name a few.

The current model for how the Grand Canyon National Park is managed may have been appropriate 100 years ago, when it was an isolated area with few visitors and requiring minimal oversight by the NPS. At that time enterprising pioneers catered to the visitors coming to the Grand Canyon, be it the Kolb brothers, the Verkamp family, or Pete Berry. All were displaced by the Park Service and only their legacy remains.

Today, with nearly 6 million yearly visitors to the park, it is time for the NPS to step back and focus its attention on the canyon itself instead of on the myriad of activities that can, and should, be provided for by the private sector.

Dennis Foster has a Ph.D. in Economics, has taught at the university level for over 25 years and has authored many analyses of Grand Canyon issues. His most recent paper, “The Railroading of Visitors: Management Missteps and Cautionary Lessons from Transportation Planning in the Last Millennium,” will be published in the forthcoming Proceedings of the 4th Grand Canyon History Symposium (2016).


Load comments