Earth Notes: Removing That Pesky Bluegrass

Apr 2, 2014

Many visitors to Grand Canyon like to have a picnic when they visit the national park. And they’re not alone. The trouble is that their fellow South Rim diners have often been big, and hungry, elk.

A elk grazes at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Credit National Park Service

The elk, which migrated up to the canyon from the Flagstaff area, were especially lured by food in the form of Kentucky bluegrass, and the water used on those lawns. The bluegrass was planted in the 1960s and ’70s in front of El Tovar, Kachina and Thunderbird lodges in the village area.

It’s a thirsty turf, and exotic to the canyon. Several studies have recommended removing non-native plants from the park, and restoring the historic village scene, says landscape architect Vicky Stinson.

The increasing numbers of elk in the last few years have become objects of tourist interest. They’re peaceful grazers, mainly, but rangers became concerned about too-close encounters between elk and visitors.

So the park decided the grass had to go. Last fall, an herbicide was applied to kill it. Landscaping the two-plus acres will begin later this summer, with more being done as funds become available. Stinson says they’ll be planting native grasses and shrubs — including cliffrose, wax currant and Apache plume, which elk seem to disdain.

Though the Rocky Mountain elk will stay on the South Rim, the hope is that they will disperse beyond the immediate rim area and find other food sources — while visitors can enjoy their picnics, and inspiring canyon views, amid a more natural setting.