Grand Canyon National Park turning 100

The Grand Canyon will celebrate 100 years since its designation as one of the country’s first national parks on Founders Day, February 26, commemorating the century with a year-long calendar of free events and learning opportunities for park visitors.

“Grand Canyon National Park is celebrating its Centennial year-round, so there will be opportunities throughout 2019 for visitors to come and engage with the park,” said Vanessa Ceja, centennial outreach coordinator for the park. “There will also be opportunities throughout Arizona for visitors to meet Grand Canyon Conservancy staff and Grand Canyon National Park rangers.”

Centennial celebratory events will occur February 26 at the South Rim of the canyon, which is open 365 days a year, starting at 10:00 a.m. with cultural demonstrations, family activities and elementary school choir performances. Park guests can also stop by the Visitor Center to sign a birthday card for the Grand Canyon.

At 1:00 p.m., there will be a commemoration ceremony at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center in which Secretary of State Katie Hobbs will read a commendation and present a plaque to the park.

The Centennial celebrations will be hosted by the National Park Service and Grand Canyon Conservancy, the park’s nonprofit partner that funds much of the educational programming and opportunities for youth to explore nature at the park. The conservancy raises private funds for the park to cover what federal funding cannot.

“We fund all of the educational programming and the Junior Rangers and a Canyon Field School for underprivileged students to come out to explore nature,” said Mindy Riesenberg, director of marketing and communications at Grand Canyon Conservancy. “We fund most of the restoration of the trails across the canyon. We fund the historic buildings along the rim and their preservation. We fund Desert View Watchtower, which is on the east side of the South Rim, which is a site that we’re going to be making into an inter-tribal heritage site for the 11 traditionally associated tribes of Grand Canyon.”

The conservancy is a membership organization that offers discounts and other benefits for people who donate, and it also works to protect and preserve the national park. Much of the entertainment and event offerings at the Grand Canyon are available courtesy of Grand Canyon Conservancy.

“This is a big deal because we were one of the first national parks,” Riesenberg said. “Teddy Roosevelt kind of started all of those national parks, and the fact that we are a national park is what helps to preserve and protect this park. If we didn’t have the government protection that we have, who knows what could have happened to the park or to the land up at the rim?”

There are events throughout the year — at the park and elsewhere — to celebrate the Centennial, including Fee-Free Days at the park, where no admission is required to enter:

  • April 16 — Naturalization Ceremony at Mather Point Amphitheater at the South Rim, in partnership with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Phoenix
  • April 20 — Earth Day celebration, a Fee-Free Day at the Grand Canyon
  • May 31 and June 1 — Wildlife Day at the Visitor Center, an educational experience where different groups will bring live animals that can interact with the public
  • June 22 through June 29 — Centennial Summer Fest and Star Party, hosting park partners and other Arizona attractions at the Visitor Center by day; Star Party presentation and telescope viewing by night

“We also have opportunities for our virtual visitors — people who are very engaged and interested in Grand Canyon but might not be able to come out in 2019,” Ceja said. “There will be opportunities on our social media sites, Grand Canyon National Park’s and Grand Canyon Conservancy’s sites for those visitors to engage with the park.”

Lumberyard Brewing Company and Historic Brewing Company, both from Flagstaff, are releasing Centennial-themed beers in honor of the Grand Canyon.

Arizona State University, an official Centennial partner, will hold a Mapping Grand Canyon conference February 28 through March 1 to examine the art, science and practice of Grand Canyon cartography.

In January, the Phoenix Symphony performed a Grand Canyon Suite in honor of the Centennial, and the Tucson Symphony, another Centennial partner, will hold Grand Canyon State performances on March 2 and 3.

Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix will host a storytelling event on April 16 called “Arizona Storytellers Project: 100 Years of the Grand Canyon.

“I would say the storytellers event is probably the biggest one in Phoenix that we’re doing, and probably the most fun, and we will have our Centennial beers available at Crescent Ballroom,” Riesenberg said.

Grand Canyon National Park draws an abundance of national and international visitors each year that inject millions of dollars into the region’s economy. The most current data shows more than 6.25 million people visited the park in 2017, Riesenberg said.

“In 2017, visitors spent $667 million in communities near the park,” Ceja said. “That spending supported 9,423 jobs in the local area, and overall it had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $938 million. Visitation to Grand Canyon National Park is a huge economic driver for not only our local gateway communities but for the state of Arizona as a whole.”

A recent study prepared by Northern Arizona University and the Alliance Bank Economic Policy Institute for the Coconino County Board of Supervisors showed that keeping the North Rim of the canyon open for just one additional month could boost the regional economy by $14.2 million and support 183 jobs in northern Arizona and southern Utah.

Right now, the North Rim only stays open from May 15 to October 15, meaning businesses must close their doors and residents must leave to find other work during winter months.

Riesenberg said she wouldn’t speak to the conservancy’s view, as the organization does not get involved in political matters, but she said her personal opinion is that it wouldn’t hurt to keep the North Rim open.

“The impact would be for the surrounding communities that are up there, like Page… would probably have an influx of money in a couple of extra months of visitors being up there, that’s for sure,” Riesenberg said.

All money raised by Grand Canyon Conservancy through memberships, donations, retail shops and Field Institute trips and tours goes directly to the park for necessary maintenance and updates.

According to Riesenberg and Ceja, the future of Grand Canyon National Park is bright, starting with changes to the Desert View area of the South Rim to create an inter-tribal Native American cultural heritage site.

“There’s going to be a lot of interpretive and educational programming and signage,” Riesenberg said. “That’s going to happen in the next couple of years, and that is a very big deal, because when it became a national park the lands were managed by the government, and over the years some of the tribes were forced out of the canyon.

“This is not history that anybody’s proud of, and we’re in a time now where we’re trying to repair a lot of those relationships and remind people that even though we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of this as a national park, there were people who were here for thousands of years before that who made a big impact on the park and have a lot to say about the park itself and its cultural heritage.”

These changes are a “great opportunity” for visitors to engage and connect with members of Grand Canyon’s 11 traditionally associated tribes and see how people have been involved in the Grand Canyon area for thousands of years, Ceja said.

“Grand Canyon Conservancy is just really excited about the Centennial because, how we look at it is, we’re looking at the past hundred years and the success of the park,” Riesenberg said. “And now we’re really looking towards the next hundred years and how we can make sure we can let people know that, in order to preserve and protect it for the next hundred years, you’ve got to be aware of things that are happening at the park and that you can help. You can help keep it this pristine place for your grandkids.”

Graham Bosch

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