Grand Canyon National Park officials, who have been mulling the continued use of mule trips in the canyon, are supporting a plan that would allow 10,000 mules rides a year on the South Rim and as many as 8,000 on the North Rim.
That preferred alternative is contained in the Environmental Assessment released Tuesday. The assessment, in the works since last May, will be open for public comments for 45 days. The document took a look at the environmental impacts associated with commercial, private, and administrative stock use, and tried to arrive at a reasonable plan for managing mule rides in the park.
Objectives considered by the planners included: 1) Provide opportunities for mule and stock use within Grand Canyon National Park to as large a cross section of visitors as practicable; 2) Establish appropriate levels and types of stock use (i.e. number of stock per day, group size) on park trails that will allow for improved maintenance and reduced resource impacts and costs associated with trail maintenance; 3) Through improved maintenance and operations, reduce conflicts between stock users and hikers on park trails, and; 4) Identify optimal stock facility locations, including associated infrastructure size and locations for improving health, safety and overall visitor experience.
There are five alternatives contained in the assessment. All have the following common elements: continued limited commercial use at Tuweep, no commercial stock use on Whitmore Trail, trail monitoring, use of an adaptive management strategy, continued trail maintenance and funding, temporary trail closures, removal of mule waste from trails, education of trail users, implementation of annual limits on commercial mule rides, general retention of stock facilities, and continued administrative stock use.
The Preferred Alternative, Alternative B, also includes the following, pending the ability to maintain park trails:
South Rim Commercial Stock Use
* Up to 10,000 commercial mule rides, including inner canyon and above rim rides would be offered each year. (current annual average use – 8,315 rides)
* On Bright Angel Trail, up to 10 rides per day would be allowed to Phantom Ranch. Plateau Point day rides from the South Rim would not be offered under this alternative.
* On South Kaibab Trail, up to 10 rides per day from Phantom Ranch; plus up to 12 pack stock would be allowed to Phantom Ranch each day (round trip).
* An above the rim ride from Yaki Point area east toward Shoshone Point would be allowed at a level of 40 rides per day (the concessioner would be responsible for maintenance of the rim trail through their operating plan).
* The current mule barn in Grand Canyon Village would house a small number of concessioner stock; the majority of concessioner stock operations would be moved to the South Kaibab Trailhead.
North Rim Commercial Use
* Up to 8,000 commercial mule rides, including inner canyon and above rim rides, would be offered each year. (current annual average use – 7,072 rides)
* On the North Kaibab Trail, up to 40 rides per day would be allowed to the Supai Tunnel with no more than 20 rides on the trail at one time. The North Kaibab Trail would be open for commercial stock to the Supai Tunnel, but not to Roaring Springs.
* Up to 40 one-hour rides on the Ken Patrick Trail to the Uncle Jim junction would be allowed per day with no more than 20 mules on this section of trail at any one time.
* Up to 20 half-day rides to Uncle Jim Point would be allowed daily.
* The hitching rail at Uncle Jim Point would remain in place and a one-stall composting toilet would be installed to replace the existing temporary toilet.
Private Stock Use
* Overnight below the rim groups would be allowed with up to six stock and six people per group. Day use (allowed both above and below the rim) would be allowed up to 12 stock and 12 people per group.
Under all Action Alternatives, a monitoring and adaptive management strategy would be used to assess trail and resource conditions, the Park Service said.
Of course, permitting so many mule trips in the park is one thing, maintaining the trail infrastructure is an entirely different, and expensive, issue. Here's how the Grand Canyon officials explain it:
Inner canyon corridor trails are subject to significant annual erosion, seasonal flooding and rockslides, and acute wear from mule concessions on both the North and South Rims of Grand Canyon National Park. Due to years of continuous use and limited funds the trails have fallen into disrepair.
Inner canyon corridor trails are difficult to navigate for both hikers and mules, and in some areas, multiple trails have developed because the trails are too steep or extremely rutted. Support walls and structures need upgrading and rebuilding to improve safety conditions for both hikers and stock users alike.
Each year, the park receives numerous complaints regarding trail conditions and mule waste on the trails. Both stock users and hikers have expressed concerns regarding the safety of stock users, the lack of knowledge regarding trail etiquette from hikers and discourtesy from some stock users.
An annual budget of approximately $3 million dollars is needed to adequately maintain the park’s corridor trails; however, the park only receives between $1.5 and $2 million annually through entrance fees, concessions franchise fees and other sources for trail maintenance and repair. Additionally, deferred maintenance costs on inner canyon corridor trails currently exceeds $24 million (GRCA PAMP 2006) – unless management actions are taken in the near future, trails will continue to fall into disrepair and deferred maintenance costs will continue to increase.
Through the proposed adaptive management strategy, the park would monitor the cost of trail maintenance, trail conditions, total deferred maintenance costs, stock and hiker use levels, and resource conditions. This information would be used by park managers to implement additional actions if necessary (i.e. park managers could choose to further limit stock use or close trails to stock use permanently or seasonally or limit human use (seasonally, number per day, etc.)).
The EA can be reviewed online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grca by clicking on the project name, and then scrolling to “Open for Public Comments.” Comments can be submitted online at the same Web address (the preferred method), mailed to Steve Martin, Superintendent, Grand Canyon National Park, Attention: Stock Use EA, P.O. Box 129, Grand Canyon, Arizona 86023 or provided at one of the public meetings listed below. Comments will be accepted through April 30, 2010.
The National Park Service will host three public meetings, as announced last week, to provide information and answer questions on the EA. The meetings will be in an open house format with a brief introduction at the beginning of each meeting provided by park staff. The public is invited to stop by at any time between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. at one of the following locations:
Grand Canyon, Arionza...................South Rim/Community Building
Kanab, Utah.............................Holiday Inn Express, 217 South 100 East
Flagstaff, Arizona......................Little America Hotel, 2515 E. Butler Avenue