Park History: Grand Canyon National Park

Quick now, how old is the federal reserve we know today as Grand Canyon National Park?

The correct answers lies in whether you're searching for the age of the "national park," or how long the canyon has been federally preserved for its unique landscape. But then again, you might also want to consider the Grand Canyon's federally protected age.

In 1893 President Benjamin Harrison created the "Grand Canyon Forest Reserve," which covered part of today's national park. Then, on January 11, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt -- after creating the Grand Canyon Game Reserve in 1906 -- turned to the Antiquities Act to create Grand Canyon National Monument. Finally, Congress on this date in 1919 formally created Grand Canyon National Park.

For insights into the motivations behind these actions, as well as details on the park's history in general, a wonderful chronology can be found in Polishing the Jewel, which Michael F. Anderson wrote for the Grand Canyon Association in 2000. In it Mr. Anderson breaks down the park's history into seven chapters: Becoming a National Park, 1882-1919; Foundations, 1919-1929; Ironic Golden Years, 1930-1941; World War and its Wake, 1942-1945; Infrastructural Last Hurrah, 1956-1975; An End to Consensus, 1976-1999, and; Upshots and Prognosis.

Mr. Anderson's approach to the park's history does not begin with prehistory, or even with the Spanish explorers who gazed into its ruddy maw. Rather, his aim was to chronicle the more recent "administrative" history of the park. He begins in the 1880s with the arrival of the railroads into Arizona and progresses on to the relatively recent (2000) present.

The author had freedom to explore the park's administrative history as he saw fit, and doesn't pull any punches. In discussing the current-day planning efforts at Grand Canyon National Park, he laments the "traditional dictum of building more to satisfy more people."

Limits to visitation will not overcome external threats to Grand Canyon National Park occasioned by regional population growth, development, and pollution. Real answers do not lie in congressional decisions, the efficacy of one federal bureau, or environmental compromises. They lie somewhere beyond the present world system wherein corporations are concerned only for capital accumulation, human wants rather than needs are considered paramount, and nature is cherished only for its economic value.