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Glen Canyon NRA Officials Thinking Of Digging For Water


Dropping levels of Lake Powell are making it harder to get to and from Wahweap Marina. Friends of Lake Powell Photo.

Climate change, both short term or in the long run, can exact changes on the landscape. Native wildlife can vanish, non-native species can arrive, things we have come to know over a lifetime of visits can be transformed, if not made to disappear altogether.

How we react to these changes can have significant impacts, as well as be telling as to our overall stewardship of the land.

At Glen Canyon National Recreation Area the ongoing drought has revealed fascinating canyon-country landscapes that long have been inundated by Lake Powell. Cathedral in the Desert, said to be one of Edward Abbey's favorite haunts, has reappeared, drawing Abbeyites and the curious.

While there have been long-running efforts to drain the lake entirely, they have been staved off and today Lake Powell is one of the Southwest's premier boating areas. But in recent years the regional drought has lowered Lake Powell. While that has opened up some fascinating canyon landscapes that had been under water, the drought also has created some logistical problems for boaters.

For years, you see, boaters have used the so-called "Castle Rock Cut" to shorten a 12-mile trip when heading to and from the Wahweap Marina to such areas as Rainbow Bridge, Padre Bay, and Warm Creek Bay. However, that shortcut is only possible when Lake Powell is at an elevation of 3,620 feet; currently the lake is right around 3,600 feet. Boaters have not been able to use the cut since the 2003 season, and in recent years they've been asking the Park Service to deepen the cut.

So how can this problem be solved? Well, NRA officials are thinking of digging the cut even deeper than it is, a solution last resorted to in 1992 when it was deepened by about 8 feet. Before that, the cut was dug deeper back in the 1970s. The current proposal -- which doesn't yet have a price tag attached -- is to dig another 15 feet deeper along a half-mile-long section of the cut. This slice also would be about 80 feet wide.

But perhaps a more important question that should be considered is, "Should the cut be deepened?" Is this how we should respond to climate change, or long-term drought, by just digging a little deeper? Have we become so omnipotent in our environmental stewardship that we haven't been confronted by a problem we couldn't engineer a solution to?

For now, the Park Service is getting ready to prepare an environmental assessment that will analyze the potential impacts of digging the cut deeper on the area’s natural and cultural resources and the quality of visitors’ experience.

To help the agency prepare that EA, the public is being invited to submit suggestions on how the situation with the Castle Rock Cut can best be addressed and what issues and alternatives the EA should consider. You can forward your thoughts to the Park Service online at this site or by mailing them at Castle Rock Cut EA, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, P.O. Box 1507, Page, AZ, 86040.

Scoping comments must be received by December 4. Once the draft EA is prepared later this winter there will be another public comment period.


Is this the proper role of the park service? Does cutting through sandstone cliffs so boaters can maintain a short-cut on Lake Powell really constitute fidelity to the Organic Act?

The main problem is that Congress saddled the agency with this boondoggle of a water project in the first place. In most respects Lake Powell is a contradiction as a national park area in almost every way imaginable. For starters it has always seemed absurd to me that the NPS forbids visitors to tamper with cultural sites, when in fact the construction of the lake itself wiped out more Native American relics, rock art and cliff dwellings than a whole army of pot hunters could've ever achieved in a comparable time frame. It could actually be argued that at least the pot hunters preserve whatever relics they find, whereas the waters of Lake Powell have simply wiped them from the face of the earth for all eternity.

Whenever I look out across the inundated depths of Glen Canyon from Wahweep Marina and listen to the roar of personal watercraft, speed boats and touring vessels the last thing I think of is a national park. The Bureau of Wreck wrought this abomination upon the land, I say let them deal with running it as a water park. The NPS has no business operating a boaters theme park, much less cutting deeper canyons for their convenience and ease.


Good points all. Frankly, I think the region with its fantastic canyon country and ancient history would better qualify as an NPS unit if the lake didn't exist. I wonder if the NPS could swap Glen Canyon NRA for the BLM's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which really should be an NPS unit.

Some of the northern (non-water) sections which border Capitol Reef N.P. along the Hole-In-the-Rock Rd. corridor could be transferred to that park and other areas could be reconfigured into smaller sub-units that pertain to their own individual characteristics and unique geology and/or cultural significance. Some could possibly exist as Utah and Arizona state park land or be managed under Navajo tribal authority.

There's a whole world of possibilities once we begin to hike away from the shimmering surface of that now buried canyon.

Wouldn't that be true for all National Recreation Areas? Are they really fit to be units of the National Park Service? shouldn't they be swapped with the BLM against their National Monuments?

Some of my NPS coworkers and I never understood why National Wreck Areas are included in the system. Some, such as Whiskeytown and Lake Roosevelt, seem more suited to the USFS's multiple use mandate rather than the NPS's preservation slant.

Additionally, NRAs cost the NPS about $110 million in 2007 just to operate. That's money that could go toward operating the "crown jewels" like Yosemite or Yellowstone or working on the "maintenance backlog". I'd like to see NRAs transferred to other agencies (I understand they might have similar funding problems, but the use and mandate would match at least) or have NRA users (the boaters, the jetskiers, bikers, etc.) pay the bulk of the operating costs in user fees.

Oh, and restore Glen Canyon! Long live Abbey!

Not to mention how the presence of that much water in the middle of the desert has drastically changed the ecosystem. I agree this shouldn't be the Park Service's problem. Reservoir management and sport hunting management should be the responsibility of some organization other than NPS.

Kurt & MRC----these are the types of creative ideas and solutions that I've been in favor of for a long time now. Even though I am of the opinion that much more serious surgery needs to be done to the actual structure of the agency, it doesn't hurt to begin a process of stepping back and looking at ways of rearranging existing resources to better serve the public and the lands under administration.

When I was a ranger this type of talk was generally taboo because any reduction in lands under the NPS was seen as a threat to the existing order. I remember a conversation I had with a supervisor (division chief) who had worked at Glen Canyon before coming to my park. When I asked him what he thought of working at a boat ramp park he said that although he personally thought it was probably not an appropriate national park it was not for any of us to judge or publicly comment on. He also said that it had provided him with a job and a chance for promotion and that it was not for rangers to question the validity of a given park but only to administer whatever Congress saw fit to put under our purview. Since he was my boss I never brought it up again.

It would be nice if managers in the NPS would, from time to time, dare to be honest about their role as stewards and what is an appropriate parcel of territory to administer and what is not.

I wonder if the rangers in the soon to be created historic waterfall park in Patterson, NJ will be able to tell the public that their agency didn't think that it was a suitable site for inclusion. After all it is a piece of history that pertains to the site. I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that it won't be mentioned in any museum display or park handout. As always, political expediency and career survival are the #1 goals of a life spent working for the NPS.

The NPS "preservation slant" is only how some interpret the Organic Act. I could argue that the NPS should have a "provide for the enjoyment slant."

In fact, I can't find the word preservation in the Organic Act. Though I do find words such as "conserve" and "promote the use of."

Devil's advocacy aside, the NPS seems to have much more urgent problems than to spend precious funds "planning to plan" in order to open a channel up to boaters.

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