For many people arriving at Grand Canyon National Park, Mather Point provides the first chance to actually see the famous canyon. In recent years, however, some visitors probably felt they'd spent more time looking for a parking space than at the view. The park recently celebrated the completion of a multi-phase project that should make a stop at Mather Point a lot more enjoyable.
Prior to the recent work, visitors arriving in the park who wanted to stop at Mather Point were often faced with traffic tie-ups and a frustrating search for a scarce parking space. The main road serving the South Rim passed very close to the overlook and a parking area, creating additional risks for pedestrians and drivers alike. Visitors unable to find a place to park often simply pulled off the side of the busy road, leading to landscape damage and traffic hazards.
Thanks to the just-completed project, a visit to the park should be vastly improved. The Mather Point area, which includes the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, now offers an "auto-free experience" at the overlook. The main access road has been moved back away from the Rim, and increased parking for the Visitor Center, together with a centralized shuttle bus transit area, encourage visitors arriving in the park to leave their cars and use the park's free shuttle system to reach other locations on the South Rim.
Other new features include a rim-side amphitheater and a theater and orientation film at the visitor center. Interpretive elements have been added to the plaza and along the walk to Mather Point to increase opportunities for visitors to learn about and connect to the cultural and natural history of the Grand Canyon. Mobility impaired visitors can now enjoy improved access to Mather Point as well.
The new amphitheater provides native limestone seating for viewing the Canyon’s famous vistas as well as a site for ranger talks. The "landmark feature," honoring the Native American Tribes affiliated with Grand Canyon National Park, is also created from native limestone. This feature has a plaza with a meeting area for visitors walking to and from Mather Point. Stone slabs in the construction include etchings inspired by stories with input gathered from these tribes.
The park celebrated completion of the work on June 15 with a ceremony at Mather Point. In addition to speeches and an open house, hundreds of participants were treated to Native American dance performances, a special ranger program, showings of the park’s new interpretive orientation film, photo opportunities with the park’s mounted rangers, cake and activities just for kids.
Additional improvements to increase access to visitor information and alternative transportation are continuing in the Mather Point/visitor center area. Greenway III, stretching from the visitor center to the bordering town of Tusayan, will soon be completed. Construction of a permanent bike rental facility adjacent to the visitor center plaza will soon begin, and new interpretive exhibits are being installed in the visitor center this summer.
Decisions to undertake major development projects in parks always involve trade-offs between "paving and preservation." In heavily-visited sites such as the South Rim, there are advantages in centralizing parking and other visitor infrastructure needs in one location closer to the park entrance, as well making it easier for visitors to use shuttle services, bicycles and other alternatives to private vehicles.