Sunday, February 12, 2012

On the Edge IX: The Discussion Starts

In the statement I prepared on the Park's Master Plan and Village Concept, I got to the bottom of page 3 before "grappl(ing) with what to do with all the cars". Should there be "an asphalt-steel-&-glass dumping ground, or should the parking areas be designed in such a way as to be dispersed, small, and as little disturbed as is possible?" (Did I mean "disturbance"?) I admonished the planners, from my eminence, to prepare genuine alternatives reflecting different advantages and disadvantages. "Please do not just present one plan plus a bunch of nonsense." However, "I have long argued for the idea in the plan that the rim should be natural and should be approached naturally." Buildings, roads, parking lots, & other constructions should be absolutely minimal aids.

While fuzzy about how to do the parking, I declared that a large new reception building was unnecessary--another bland, unused fiasco, I feared. I made this allusion to the existing visitor center for a good reason, I wanted to insist that "interpretation is dependent on people", and what was needed was a gigantic increase in "interpreters, question-answerers, guides". So instead of a large new building, there could be a few small kiosks in the parking lots, and the mass transit could be a site for "interpretation, with even more staff available near and on the rim". The Plans "both should be calling, over and over, for a massive increase in the people who meet people". "There is no justification for this bureau except as every opportunity is recognized and taken to encourage & strengthen the wish, will, & need of people to learn about the Grand Canyon".

So I wanted modest, dispersed facilities to bring people into the Park, leaving their cars some distance back of the rim, being taken by transport or walking near the rim, then walking up to the rim on a trail for "the shock, the wrench, of this unexpected, unworldly experience. For some that is just about enough…for others, there are varying degrees of a felt need to learn more and to do more." And that is the time for contact with interpreters. This was a real concern at the time, when the increase in police-type rangers seemed to be so great as to eclipse the educators. 

This meant removing asphalt and constructions at Mather Point, while providing access trails to other points along the rim. People should be able to disperse along the rim, not having to congregate at one point. Park transport should be quiet and far enough back to be unobtrusive, far enough away to keep trees between it and the rim. 

On the matter of historic buildings, I doubted the need for a special "historic village" with a pedestrian center--a concessionaire's dream-- and championed a gradual phasing out of structures on the rim, which after a period of extended healing would be in a near-natural state. I wanted to get and keep the rims natural, avoid massive new construction, gather and integrate all visitor-related activities onto already used ground about the campground. Above all I wanted alternatives offered. Perhaps one day all overnight facilities could go. So overall, there would be day-tripper facilities on the east; then the shopping-overnight complex; then a renaturalizing area where the railroad was, and south of all that, Park facilities and residences. 

Now this was not all that different as an idea from what NPS offered in the Development Concept. However, the latter "disquieted" me because the massive reconstruction would cause interpretation to continue to be slighted, a need particularly for aiding day trippers, the priority goal of the Village. I wonder now if this different focus of mine blinded me to the need to support strongly what NPS had done in its Concept. Of course, that is always the question, isnt it -- support a good plan from NPS when it puts one forth, or argue for a better?

Since there was also a Master Plan for the entire (pre-1975) Park, I made some comments not relevant to the Village Concept, but which indicate the shape of my views on the Park:

1. There is a topographic unity, and we can hope for human cooperation in accord with it, even though and especially, there are large, important parts of the Canyon in other ownership. There are parts south of the river and west of the (pre-1975) Park adrift, cut loose from any joint planning process for the Canyon's sake. Cooperation ought to be an urgent priority.

2. The Navajo Nation has set up tribal parks. GCNP should work with the Navajo on the proper presentation and protection of the Canyon.

3. Why is joint planning with Lake Mead NRA not a top priority?

4. There are impact zones, areas that impinge on the Canyon and the Park,  administered by others, e.g., the Forest Service and BLM. GCNP should take the initiative in working with these agencies on Canyon-related matters.

5. Work is going forward on Wilderness designation in the Park and adjacent to it; an integrated proposal may be possible. However, NPS should get back on the track with respect to the River. After all the public testimony, the massive petitions, NPS decisions, "Wilderness status for the river, the very heart of the wild Grand Canyon is threatened by the transient interests of a few corporate motor-boaters." "They deserve to be phased out as they phased in: quickly." The action of banning motors after 1976 is entirely up to the NPS; there are contracts to be renewed. Let us enter this nations's third century without the smirch of motors in the Grand Canyon.

The NPS plan called for a radical clearing out and re-orientation with much construction. I was stressing what could be achieved by people working with people--whether in interpretation or cooperation. NPS thought about infrastructure; I thought about human interaction. 

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