The Grand Canyon has often been described as “timeless.” But we calendar-driven humans can’t help ourselves as we prepare to bid another year farewell. And it’s been a memorable twelve months indeed. Of course, the list of newsworthy headlines from the passing year would be too long to mention. But a few notable trends and happenings are worthy of special mention.
Despite the global economic woes, visitors still flocked to the grandest of canyons (though demonstrating a newfound frugality as local merchants would quickly point out). Their enthusiasm for public lands may have been fueled in part by the Ken Burns PBS documentary on national parks. Burns’ high-profile production is rumored to be stimulating attendance system wide and will no doubt cement the critical role of the national parks in our collective psyche for decades to come.
Speaking of decades, Grand Canyon National Park celebrated its 90th birthday in 2009, and marked the occasion on the same day the park service officially opened the new Verkamps Visitor Center in Grand Canyon Village. Combined with the sweeping changes occurring at the main Visitor Center near Mather Point, the NPS has dramatically improved its ability to share the amazing story of Grand Canyon with the general public.
Other changes to the visitor experience in 2009 include the permanent closing of popular Mather Point to vehicular traffic, a rerouting of the historic mule day rides from the Bright Angel Trail to one through the forested South Rim, and new procedures for obtaining backcountry permits that eliminate the advantage to applying in person.
Finally, among the millions inspired by the Grand Canyon this year there were a handful of hikers that met their fate between the canyon walls. As we begin a new decade, we do well to honor their passion for the Grand Canyon, and to redouble our own efforts to cherish and protect this treasured landscape.