Sunday, September 4, 2011

On the Edge II -- Mather Renewed

Last June, Grand Canyon National Park celebrated the completion of much work to bring Mather Point out of the throught-the-windshield era of Park visiting. The covering press release can be found here:
The release links to photographs, too, which I have used below. I have not yet visited the site, nor did I make any efforts on this matter, unlike in the 1970's, when development planning was a big item on the agenda. So here I want to collect some NPS materials to get oriented about this significant change to the First Look.

Way back, 1957 and earlier, this was a simple place, Mather just another overlook, over on the right. Mission 66 to upgrade and add to NPS and visitor facilities was just underway.

And today's map, artier, and much busier:
The entrance road bends south of the visitor center, curving around the multiple parking lots (numbers 1,2,3,4)
What was changed? Here is a not-too-old Googling showing a satellite photo from before the latest work was done. Mather is still an auto destination and the newest visitor center somewhat detached, but the stage is set for taking that battered-seeming ground and making use of it: 
In the 1970's, before any modernization had taken place, one of the arguments for developing the land between the rim and the new south entrance road was that it had been burned over, leaving a scarred landscape quite suitable for a sacrifice zone.
But what is planned for the large area northwest of the visitor center? One alternative arising from the planning 15 years ago showed it left as it is; another had man marring it for parking and lodging. Here is what that 1995 plan envisioned for Grand Canyon Village overall: "direct access to canyon panoramas...experiences, from more social .... to solitary ... along the rim... the number of private vehicles parking on the South Rim at any one time would be limited. ... A public transit system, along with bike and pedestrian paths, would provide access along the South Rim." The hope was to have a rail-based transit bringing visitors to the rim from massive parking out at the Tusayan area. A key Republican Congressman, Ralph Regula, did not trust the Park Service to carry out such a project, according to what one of his aides told me a decade ago. With that key component quashed, the Park turned back to the ideas of the 1970's.

You will have to pardon my going against chronological flow here. I thought it would be more interesting to start with the hottest news, and work back to 35 years ago when I spent a lot of time trying to convince Park planners to think small and limited. In any case, although the plans rise and fall, morph and crystallize, the tough nut remains that we are a car-using people, and a century after intensive development at Grand Canyon Village bloomed, we still cannot come to terms with the place of cars in our National Park System's 1916 Organic Act.

So, back to our own time and: Voila!
here's the map showing the latest additions, and also the large parking lots, of which there is a photo of the left one with vehicles further down the page:
And a list of completed projects, followed by a detail map
Here is a Mather map, with the details of what has been done:
A photo across the map, showing cars and trees, and an explanation:

Here is the new amphitheater being prepared
and used
This little site is tucked a bit back in a side nook, although clearly it is a structure on the rim.
On the other hand, Mather is now a walk-to site (see the maps above). Is it a natural approach? Here are two aerial views:

Well, there is a lot of reveg to be done, dont you think? And I do wonder what the area ambient temp is boosted to on a sunny July day by those parking lots. Clearly, we are no longer in 1957, but as I said, the central question remains: Honey, what are we going to do with the damn car?

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