Oral Testimony before the 
House Sub-committee on National Parks and Public Lands

Dr. Dennis Foster
July 20, 2000

     Good morning Chairman Hansen and members of this sub-committee.  I wish to thank you for inviting me to speak today on this important issue of access to our national parks.  I appear before you as someone who has both an academic and personal interest in the Grand Canyon.  I have been hiking the canyon for twenty years and have logged over 250 nights camped in its backcountry.

     The actions of the Park Service, some already undertaken and others planned, seem premised on distancing and discouraging visitors from the Grand Canyon.  Taken together these actions are likely to lead to an erosion of public interest in this spectacular park.

     The current transportation plan at the Grand Canyon is one more effort being made by the National Park Service to control and limit visitation.  For example, officials have repeatedly stated that the “carrying capacity” of the South Rim is but 22,000 visitors a day.  This is quite extraordinary given that the park is almost as large as Delaware.  Such a notion has not been defended, perhaps because it cannot be defended.

     I would like to talk for a few moments about this transportation plan and its shortcomings.  As you may already know, the proposal is to have visitors park seven miles from the rim, outside the park boundary, and board a train to enter the South Rim developed area.  The train will run to the Canyon View Information Plaza and then to the South Rim Village, and finally back out to the parking lot in Tusayan.

     The rationales put forth by the Park Service in support of this plan is that it will reduce visitor frustration, reduce visitor congestion, reduce noise, reduce pollution and, in general, improve the quality of the visitor experience.  At best these arguments are misleading.  At worst, they are out and out falsehoods.  I have yet to see any documentation that any of these arguments are more than fanciful thinking by people seemingly bent on controlling the visitor’s experience at Grand Canyon.

     For example, on the topic of congestion, park officials are fond of saying that on the busiest days at Grand Canyon there are 6,000 cars vying for 3,000 spaces.  This implies that all of these vehicles are looking for spaces at the same time, which is patently false.  If it were true, you would have to conclude that the proposed rail system will be woefully inadequate, even though it is expected to cost upwards of $200 million to build.  That is, 6,000 cars means about 20,000 visitors.  The trains can hold a maximum of 450 people.  If a train comes by every 15 minutes, it would take over 11 hours to clear this many people.  So, should we conclude that officials at the Park Service are lying when they say that 6,000 vehicles are chasing after 3,000 spaces?  Or, should we conclude that they are just extraordinarily incompetent in designing this enormously expensive system and being unable to accommodate this visitor load?  Of course, these choices are not mutually exclusive.

     The cost issue is so mind-boggling that I can hardly believe that there is any serious support for this proposal.  A current “best guess” is that this plan will cost each visitor about $15 – a cost which is separate from the entrance fee.  If you have a Golden Eagle, or an annual park pass, you will still have to pay the transportation fee.  No exemption for seniors.  No exemption for children over five.  No exemptions for overnight visitors at the park hotels.  And, no exemptions for those passing through, via the East Rim Drive, who may not even ride the train.

     Will visitors find that congestion is lessened?  No.

     Will visitors find that frustration has lessened?  No.

     Will visitors find that it is quieter?  No.

     Will visitors find that there is less pollution?  No. 

     Will visitors find that the quality of their visit has improved?  I can’t imagine that it is even remotely possible to conclude that this could happen.  I used to think that most visitors will be worse off with this plan, but, now I think it is possible that every single visitor will be negatively impacted by this system.

     I would suggest that there are two solutions to this problem – an “easy way out” and a “simple way out.”  The easy way out is to build a parking area at the Canyon View Information Plaza, which the Park Service said it was going to do in its General Management Plan, finalized in 1995.  Leave the Village parking intact; improve the infrastructure and provide a bus shuttle service on a voluntary basis.  Five years ago, based on data in the GMP, I estimated that this would cost about $10 million.

     The simple way out is to redraw the national park boundary so as to exclude the South Rim Village and the developed areas nearby, allowing room for growth regulated by normal county guidelines.  This would amount to about six square miles – all of which is above the rim.  The notion that the Park Service should be our Big Brother and control our every move along the rim is indefensible, and it should not be their job.

     In my written remarks I have also touched on other management decisions made at Grand Canyon that are likely to adversely affect the visitor experience.  If you look over these comments I think you will find that there is a pattern of behavior by park decision-makers that has distanced and discouraged visitors from the Grand Canyon.  Thank you for your attention to these issues and hearing my comments.

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