Come mid-May you'll find mules and hikers back together again on Grand Canyon National Park's South Kaibab Trail, which has been under reconstruction for the past two years.
Park officials said Thursday that while all the trail work has not been entirely completedly, enough has been done to allow mules, hikers, and other stock on the trail safely beginning May 15. (Note: Hikers have been allowed on the trail while work has progressed.)
Remaining work includes areas around Windy and Ooh-Aah Points, which should be completed by September 30, they said. Upon completion of this project, the Park Service will consider a similar project on the Bright Angel Trail when funding becomes available.
The $3.5 million project on the South Kaibab Trail is one of the largest reconstruction efforts on a Grand Canyon trail since the mid-1960s, according to park officials.
“Grand Canyon has a total deferred maintenance of over $262 million, of which over $24 million is attributed to Grand Canyon trails,” said Barclay Trimble, the park's deputy superintendent for business operations. “Funding through the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act and the American Recovery Act has helped to reduce this backlog and significantly improve conditions on one of Grand Canyon’s most popular trails.”
Grand Canyon has more than 630 miles of trails, including 415 miles of inner canyon backcountry trails and 42 miles of inner canyon corridor trails. Corridor trails include Bright Angel Trail, the River Trail, and the South and North Kaibab Trails. More than 200,000 visitors use the corridor trails on an annual basis.
The South Kaibab Trail begins on the South Rim near Yaki Point and descends to the Colorado River. The distance from the trailhead to Phantom Ranch is approximately 7.5 miles with an elevation change from the rim to river of 4,860 feet.
The trail work has included resurfacing of the trail; rebuilding steps; stabilization and preventative maintenance to existing retaining walls; replacing retaining walls that had been lost to floods, slides, and erosion; repairing and aligning existing water features; and more. To date, approximately 1,300 square feet of retaining wall has been constructed, more than 10,000 square feet of cobblestone trail tread, and nearly 6,600 linear feet of liner rock has been installed.
Crews also laid over 14,600 cubic feet of crushed rock sub-base, installed 82 stone water bars, replaced 291 retaining bars and over 575,000 cubic feet of dirt, and cleaned over 110,000 linear feet of trail and over 450 water bars.
Major reconstruction occurred at multiple sites along the South Kaibab Trail, including critical sections of trail at Ooh-Aah Point (3/4 of a mile from the rim), Mormon Flats (approximately 3 miles from the rim), and an area known as the Red and Whites (approximately 4 miles from the rim). Additionally, the entire 7.5 miles of trail between the rim and Phantom Ranch was improved to maintain the rigors of livestock as well as pedestrian traffic.
Work to date has been completed by Grand Canyon National Park’s Trail Crew with significant help from crews with the American Conservation Experience (ACE), Coconino Rural Environment Corp (CREC), both located in Flagstaff, Ariz., and the Student Conservation Association (SCA), based in Charleston, New Hampshire. Additional support was provided by Xanterra South Rim, L.L.C. through their trail maintenance program and livery barn.
“A significant amount of hard work has been completed to improve conditions on the South Kaibab Trail,” said Deputy Superintendent Trimble. "We appreciate the efforts of our trail crew and those from the American Conservation Experience, Coconino Rural Environment Corp, the Student Conservation Association and Xanterra. Their work contributes to the preservation of this world renowned resource and deserves our recognition and encouragement.”
Under the park's new stock use plan, approved earlier this year, the South Kaibab and other
stock use trails will be monitored to assess conditions and impacts to resources. Cost of trail work, amount of work completed, and amount of stock and hiker use will be tracked to determine impacts and whether additional management actions are needed.