Flagstaff, AZ – Grand Canyon's current backcountry management plan has been in place since 1988. And things have changed. Rachel Bennett is the environmental protection specialist at Grand Canyon. She says river-assisted backcountry travel, or "packrafting" is a new use of the park, and other activities like trail running, bicycling and canyoneering are becoming more popular.
"We always want to be anticipating that some of those opportunities will expand and that more people will be interested in those opportunities. I think now is the time to address those. They were not addressed in the 1988 plan."
The public meeting in Flagstaff will be a chance for Grand Canyon staff to show the public some of the resource impacts they're seeing at the park and get ideas for how to reduce them. Things like vandalism at archeological sites, the creation of social trails that can lead to erosion, hammering of vegetation and fragile soil crust by people hiking or setting up camp in the wrong places. Some backcountry users have been impacting water quality by bathing in streams, and even leaving behind human waste. For now, park officials are tight-lipped about where these impacts are most common.
"I think we do have areas that receive more impacts. We've had some internal dialogue with park staff to ID some potential areas we might focus in on but at this time we're really, really looking for the public's input."
Bennett says she wants the public's help in drafting solutions, which could range from education all the way up to closures. Comments for the scoping phase of the backcountry management plan will be accepted through June 27, and the park hopes to produce a draft of the new plan for public review early next year. More information is available on the park's website.