A scar on the Grand Canyon: Plans for mega hotel, retail complex, cable car, walkway and housing development threatens one of the natural wonders of the world

The National Parks Conservation Association has called the projects 'an unmitigated disaster'

US Correspondent

It is one of the most spectacular landscapes on Earth, unchanged by any force but nature for millions of years. But now the celebrated view across the Grand Canyon is in danger of being interrupted by a man-made aberration.

Officials have expressed mounting alarm at two development projects, both in the late planning stages, which park superintendent Dave Uberuaga recently described to the Los Angeles Times as “serious threats” to the future of the Grand Canyon National Park. “When you have that size and scope of potential development that close to the park, it will impact our visitor experience,” he said.

The more visible construction, known as the Grand Canyon Escalade, would be a 420-acre hotel, restaurant and retail complex on Navajo Indian land neighbouring the park, with a cable-car gondola carrying visitors to a raised walkway and café at the canyon floor, where the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers meet.

R Lamar Whitmer of developers Confluence Partners insisted the Escalade, which he hopes will open in May 2018, would cause “a minimal intrusion” on the vista. But Dave Nimkin of the National Parks Conservation Association called the plans “an unmitigated disaster”. He said: “Garish commercial development is entirely out of character with what a national park of the scale of the Grand Canyon is all about.”

A major development is also being planned to expand the tiny, Canyon-adjacent town of Tusayan by 2,200 homes and three million square feet of commercial space, quadrupling the community’s water consumption as the US Southwest struggles through its worst drought on record. Martha Hahn, the park’s chief of resource management, said the Stilo Development Group’s proposals could have a catastrophic effect on delicate local ecosystems.

“The groundwater they have drilled and used is already having an effect on the springs and seeps which hold about 80 per cent of the life of the Canyon. This is a resource that’s small, and there’s already a lot of demand on it,” she said.

The Grand Canyon in Arizona The Grand Canyon in Arizona (Getty Images)
Tusayan sits on the Canyon’s southern rim, and gets its water via an elderly, 13-mile pipeline from the north rim. Though the pipeline is prone to failures, replacing it would reportedly cost up to $150m (£88m) – more than double the annual construction budget for the entire US National Park Service.

The Grand Canyon attracts five million visitors per year to what is described as one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Only a small proportion travel to the bottom, by river, by mule or on foot. Mr Whitmer said the gondola would offer many more a chance to see the view from the floor up.

Ms Hahn, however, said the National Park had not been consulted on the plans, and a legal dispute is expected over the location of the riverside walkway. The Navajo claim the right to any property above the high-water mark of the rivers, but park officials say public land stretches a quarter of a mile from their banks, forbidding construction any closer to the water.

The project cannot go ahead without the support of Navajo tribal leaders, and the plans include a Navaho discovery centre to teach visitors about the tribe’s history and culture.

Mr Whitmer said the development would generate much-needed economic opportunities.

“It’s an area that has 70 per cent unemployment,” he said. “The teenage suicide rate is four to five times the national average. It’s one of the poorest areas in the Western US. So they’re looking forward to being able to tell their story, share the Canyon with dignity and have employment.”

Yet some tribal representatives are unhappy with the project, saying the confluence of the two rivers is a sacred site, representing a meeting of male and female, and thus the very beginnings of life.

Members of the nearby Hopi tribe have also voiced dismay. Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, told Indian Country Today: “The solace and relationship with the environment as you’re doing these religious ceremonies requires a lot of emotional wellbeing to feel good about it. I feel that that is what is going to be taken away.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape