Ecotourism begins at home

Ecotourism begins at home

I MANAGED Colorado TO HIKE ACROSS the Grand Canyon of the River this year, accompanied by two brothers-in-law. The hike involves a distance of so...

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I MANAGED Colorado


the Grand Canyon of the

River this year, accompanied

by two brothers-in-law.

The hike involves a distance of some 24 miles and a 7,500-foot climb up to the North Rim

(9,000 feet above sea level}. The point

of the hike, as I saw it, was as much to experience

the canyon as to

get across, and so we camped for three nights in the “main corridor,” as it’s known, along the Kaibab Trail, and also took side hikes. Perhaps the most ironic moment of the hike occurred at the end. Just after we staggered with our 40pound packs up the North Kaibab Trail to-the N&h Rim trailhead, a fellow came running up the trail behind us, carrying nothing more than a water bottle. As we fed the canyon runner our remaining trail food (which we were only too happy to give away), we learned that he was about to turn around and run back-rim to rim to rim in one day. Hiking, camping, and running are just three uses of the Grand Canyon. Most people are also familiar with the mule rides-which allow people to ride down either for a noontime picnic or for an overnight stay at a lodge-and with the white-water rafting trips. Those uses cover several thousand people who visit the Grand Canyon each year.Then there’s the hundreds of thousands who drive to the rim (usually the South Rim) simply to take a look. Many of those people also stay overnight so that they can watch the subtle interplay of colors during a canyon sunset. I must also mention those who attend lectures or hikes led by National Park Service rangers and those who come to g,j

study art and photography at the studio that is perched on the rim near the Bright Angel trailhead. With all these uses, it’s no surprise that the Grand Canyon’s fragile desert ecosystem is under tremendous pressure. Take just the matter of water. The South Rim, which receives most visitors, has no real water source of its own. Because the rock strata run the “wrong” way, water falling on the Kaibab Plateau runs away from the rim-and away from the many water-using visitor facilities (such as the Amfac’s well-run lodges and restaurants). Instead, water for the South Rim comes from the north, via a transcanyon pipeline. The source of most of the canyon’s water is the aptly named Roaring Springs, at the base of the North Rim, where water running south percolates out of limestone strata. In this issue, we present articles about ecotourism in Brunei and Panama.The common focus is finding ways to develop a tourism industry that doesn’t destroy the sites on which the industry is based. Those countries, though, are so


distant that the typical American will probably never see them. As a consequence, it’s easy for us to agree that those venues should become ecotourism sites-never developed and visited only briefly by limited numbers of people or viewed from a distance. But places like the Grand Canyon (and other national parks) are easily accessible to many Americans, as well as international visitors. The question is, will Americans apply ecotourism principles to their own natural wonders? The result so far has been mixed, at best, but the good news is that the National Park Service has begun to develop plans to limit the damage from huge crowds. An expedition that involves an overnight stay in the canyon, for instance, requires a backcountry camping permit, and only a fixed number of such permits are issued for each night.The next step proposed by the NPS is to restrict cars on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (and in Yosemite’s central valley), replacing them with shuttle buses. I’ve already discovered that taking a shuttle bus can be less convenient than driving a car. If the result is a less-congested South Rim, however, that’s a worthwhile outcome-if only because it’s often impossible to find a parking space at the canyon’s overlooks. With proper planning, everyone who wants to do so will still be able to enjoy a canyon sunset.--C. w