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Backcountry access dispute near Grand Canyon’s rim

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Grand Canyon National Park’s superintendent is drawing
the ire of avid backcountry users because of a plan to seasonally issue just one
permit a week to access remote wilderness near the South Rim.

The Great Thumb area borders tribal lands and is only accessed by traveling
through Havasupai Tribe boundaries, with a 40-minute drive on dirt roads from
Tusayan.

The area offers pristine hiking and some of the best canyoneering within the
park, the Arizona Daily Sun reports.

In a letter to the chairman of the Havasupai Tribe, Park Superintendent David
Uberuaga offered to seasonally limit permits onto a piece of land that covers
some 90,000 acres of remote wilderness.

Backcountry users are upset because they believe their access is being limited
and the process is being carried out in private.

Federal law required the National Park Service and the tribe to negotiate
access to the land, which was half of the 1975 expansion of Grand Canyon
National Park.

“Right now we think that on a weekly basis, there is a handful of people back
there maybe in the spring and in the fall,” Uberuaga said. “It’s not about
denying access at all. It’s about a way to get a permit.”

The Park Service expects to release the first public draft of the plan this
spring.

The debate has emerged as the Grand Canyon works to revise its backcountry
management plan, which was last updated in 1985.

What the park is mainly looking to address are the growing throngs of people
now venturing below the rim on day hikes to the river or the opposite rim,
sometimes in large groups or even running full out on the trail. The Park
Service considers such activities to be ill-advised.

Uberuaga expects the backcountry rules to stay the same in most areas, but he
said one avenue being explored is only allowing commercial permits in some
regions and canceling private trips.

It’s also revisiting rules for usage in areas like Great Thumb, Pasture Wash
and Deer Creek, which was also recently “temporarily” closed down to
canyoneering because some tribes see the area as the sacred place they go after
death.

Uberuaga said that for decades, people have been trespassing on tribal land to
reach Great Thumb because the Havasupai Tribe refuses to grant permits.

But canyoneers said they believe the superintendent is not aware just how many people
will be left out by the deal.

Many backcountry users sneak into Great Thumb or drive to the North Rim and
trek with all their gear, then use small pack rafts to make it across the
Colorado River.

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Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/

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