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Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Northern Arizona’s Carlos Hines (4) jumps for a shot Monday afternoon during play against Montana State.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

The 10 p.m. Pine Cone Drop was greeted with cheers and fireworks Tuesday night to mark New Year's Eve.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Fireworks fill the night sky Tuesday night after the 10 p.m. Pine Cone Drop to mark the New Year.

Grand Canyon celebrates 100 years as a national park in 2019

FLAGSTAFF — The first European American who reached the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon marveled at what was before him: an astounding system of canyons, profound fissures and slender spires that seemingly tottered from their bases.

The scenery wasn't enough to convince Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives that anyone would visit after his group that set out in a steamboat wrapped up an expedition in 1858.

"Ours has been the first and, doubtless, will be the last party of whites to visit this profitless locality," he wrote. "It seems intended by nature that the Colorado River along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed."

That clearly wasn't the way things worked out, and the Grand Canyon in 2019 will celebrate its 100th anniversary as a national park.

Despite a federal government shutdown that has closed some other U.S. national parks, the Grand Canyon has remained open because Arizona decided to supply money needed to keep trails, shuttles and restrooms open.

It now draws more than 6 million tourists a year who peer over the popular South Rim into the gorge a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep, navigate river rapids, hike the trails and camp under the stars.

Early explorers came on boat, foot and horseback often with the help of Native American guides. The wealthy traveled by stagecoach in a two-day trip from Flagstaff to the southernmost point on the canyon's South Rim in the 1880s.

The first passenger train rolled in from Williams in 1901, but the railroad was more interested in mining copper than carrying tourists. The automobile became the more popular way to reach the Grand Canyon in the 1930s.

Early entrepreneurs charged $1 to hike down the Bright Angel Trail used by the Havasupai people whose current-day reservation lies in the depths of the Grand Canyon, developed camping spots and built hotels. Tourists paid for drinking water, to use outhouses and for curios in a tent pitched at the South Rim.

Ralph Cameron, a prospector for whom the Navajo Nation community of Cameron is named, was one of the major opponents of naming the Grand Canyon a national park because he saw how much money could be made from tourism.

President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation to create the park in 1919 but Teddy Roosevelt is credited for its early preservation as a game reserve and a national monument.

He famously said: "Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it."

Centennial events will include Roosevelt impersonators, a historical symposium, a living history week and efforts to get visitors beyond the South Rim by showcasing lesser-known sites on social media. The park's actual birthday is Feb. 26, when a celebration is scheduled at the South Rim, with other events at other locations programmed for later in the year.

Vanessa Ceja Cervantes, one of the centennial coordinators, said the park will broadcast ranger talks, the founder's day event and other virtual tours throughout the year.

"A lot of our visitors come for the day and they're drawn here for this amazing landscape," she said. "But we really want to give them reasons to stay, to learn about the geology, the natural resources, cultural or historic because there's something here for everyone."

Visitors might even learn about the Apollo 11 astronauts who trained at the Grand Canyon, a spotted skunk there who does a handstand when it feels threatened, a commercial airline crash that spurred the creation of the Federal Aviation Administration or the story of a heart-shaped rock embedded in wall for a hotel waitress.

Before Grand Canyon became a national park, the land was home to and visited frequently by Native American tribes.

As the story goes, Spanish explorers reached the canyon in the 1540s, led by Hopi guides. They descended into the canyon but misjudged its depth and vastness, turning back before they could reach the Colorado River. Their reports likely deterred others from exploring the region for centuries.

Gertrude Smith, who works in the cultural office for the Yavapai-Apache Nation in Camp Verde, said tribes continue to revere the Grand Canyon as a place of emergence and where they forage for plants and nuts, and hunted before it became outlawed.

"People do forget the Native people were the first people to dwell in these places and use the resources," she said.

Wayne Ranney, the immediate past president of the Grand Canyon Historical Society, moved to Phantom Ranch to work as a backcountry ranger in 1975, a job that would create a bond with his paternal grandfather who first visited Grand Canyon National Park in 1919. He worked for the railroad and could get a roundtrip ticket for $5, Ranney said.

In the years after World War II ended, the National Park Service began to modernize places like the Grand Canyon. The gorge hit 1 million visitors annually in 1956, a number that has only grown since.

"Its popularity is never diminished," Ranney said. "For most people, even though it may be crowded when they visit, they still come away with a feeling of awe."

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Zach Stewart waits for the Pine Cone Drop just before 10 p.m. Tuesday night to mark the New Year.

New year, new minimum wage

January 1 doesn’t just mark the first day of the new year, but also another increase in Flagstaff's minimum wage as it makes its way to $15.50 by 2022.

As of today, the minimum wage in Flagstaff will rise from the previous rate of $11 an hour to the new rate of $12 an hour. The hourly cash rate for tipped employees is also going up, from $8 per hour to $9.

But the minimum wage will not only be increasing in Flagstaff.

The state minimum wage is also set to increase on Jan. 1, from $10.50 an hour to $11. The state minimum wage is planned to reach $12 an hour by 2020.

And as the minimum wage increases, businesses across the city are tasked with finding solutions to deal with the increased cost.

While some local business owners have said they are planning on cutting hours or raising the prices on products, Fratelli Pizza co-owner Brent Schepper said they are trying a somewhat different strategy.

While the minimum wage is going up $1 per hour in the city, employees at Fratelli will be seeing an increase of about $4 across the board. Schepper said as of Jan. 1 Fratelli will be operating as if the minimum wage has risen to $15.50 an hour.

“Mainly because we didn’t want to have to constantly adjust [over the next few years],” Schepper said. “It is one of the more exciting things we’ve ever done, that we are able to make a move like this.” He added the move is also an effort to avoid wage compression.

To offset the cost, Schepper said they will be leaving their prices the same but will be implementing a 10 percent service charge for all orders. He said they hope this keeps their prices more affordable than simply raising the price of everything on their menu by $2 or $3.

Schepper said they got the idea during a visit to Seattle in 2016. Seattle passed a tiered system for increasing the minimum wage that began in 2015. As of Jan. 1, the minimum wage for small business in the city is $14, or $11.50 with tips.

During their visit to that city, Schepper said every restaurant at which they ate except one had transitioned to a service charge system. And after speaking with employees and managers of those restaurants, and looking at their books, Schepper said they believe this is the best direction to move in.

While Fratelli is big enough to handle such a change, “it will definitely be harder for mom and pop shops,” Schepper said, adding it may not be the way to go for full service restaurants.

Schepper said he has somewhat mixed feelings about the higher wages generally. He said they are happy to pay their employees more but Schepper said he does worry that most of that extra income will just go into the pockets of landlord’s due to increased rent costs.

The minimum wage increase comes after voters decided to uphold the schedule in the November election with 55 percent of the vote. The original proposition passed in 2016 with 54 percent.

After the minimum wage reaches $15.50, it will stay steady unless the state minimum wage increases. As the law is written, the city's minimum wage will always be at least $2 more than the state’s, so should the state wage increase, so would the city wage.

The next increase will occur on Jan. 1, 2020 to $13 an hour, with tipped workers moving to $10 an hour, while the state minimum wage will increase to $12.

Amid shutdown, Flagstaff officials worried about local forest thinning project

While the public watches legislators attempt to figure out a way to fund themselves in the United States Capitol, in Flagstaff, city workers expect the United States Forest Service’s transitioning workers and missed deadlines to cause delays and pile-ups once furloughed workers return to the job.

The Coconino National Forest is one of the leading partners in projects like the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project. The local forest thinning project works to prevent catastrophic wildfires, improve forest health and protect local watersheds through collaboration between Flagstaff, the state and Coconino National Forest. Without federal funds, many Forest Service employees have been furloughed and have not been able to move projects forward or help outgoing and incoming workers transition.

Paul Summerfelt, a wildland fire management officer who is closely involved with the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project, works together with the Forest Service as a city employee. Summerfelt said the federal employees have given him "radio silence" since the shutdown began. Members of the Forest Service were unable to be reached to comment for this article.

If the shutdown extends past New Year’s Day, Summerfelt expects the Forest Service's work will start to add up. He said that the actual forest thinning in FWPP should be able to continue unimpeded in the short term, although problems may arise if contractors finish contracted plots of land before the government funding is reinstated.

A new forest thinning contract in the Dry Lake Hills was expected to be put out to be bid upon by private contractors on Jan. 1. The shutdown means that the deadlines will continue to approach with Forest Service employees unable to communicate on the status of the bids. It is unclear what the fate of the contract will be.

"The issue is the contracting staff on the Forest Service side is not a big shop," Summerfelt said. "They've got many other projects they're working on at the moment as well. Where this one will get balled up with all the others, or when it will come out, I'm not sure."

Planning meetings for other recently awarded contracts in the Dry Lake Hills area were also scheduled for early this month.

"They were going to come in and go through their operating plans and start in early January," Summerfelt said. "Although work has been awarded, work is being delayed."

In addition, there are staff members in leadership positions who will be leaving the local district for jobs in other parts of the country. The work needed to prepare the incoming staff by late January isn't simple, Summerfelt said.

"It takes a while to bring somebody up to speed on what’s occurring, to understand what's transpired already, the agreements, commitments and all that," Summerfelt said.

He did admit that if this shutdown had to happen, having it happen during the winter holiday season is fortunate as workers were already planning to take holidays.

"I wouldn't call it a silver lining. I'd call it grey," Summerfelt said. "It's not a good thing, but it's better than if we were in the middle of the summer."

Despite the time of year, he expects that the longer the shutdown lasts, the greater the impact on their projects.

"Personally, I'd have to say, it's a terrible way to run a government," Summerfelt said. "It creates a lot of side issues."