The Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic natural landmarks in the United States, attracting millions of visitors every year. The canyon is a mile deep, 277 miles long, and up to 18 miles wide, making it a breathtaking sight to behold. However, the canyon’s history is not just about its natural wonder, but also about the efforts to protect it from commercialization and exploitation.
Significance of the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is a geological wonder, with rocks that are estimated to be two billion years old. It is also a significant cultural site for Native American tribes, who have lived in the area for thousands of years. The canyon is home to diverse flora and fauna and is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, hikers, and adventurers. For these reasons, the Grand Canyon has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Early Efforts to Protect the Grand Canyon
In the late 19th century, there were growing concerns about the commercialization of the Grand Canyon. The mining industry was eyeing the area for its rich mineral deposits, and developers were looking to build hotels and pleasure resorts. Conservationists, such as John Wesley Powell and George Wharton James, began calling for the protection of the canyon. In 1893, President Benjamin Harrison declared the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve, withdrawing it from mining and logging activities.
The Antiquities Act of 1906
President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act in 1906, which allowed him to designate areas of "historic or scientific interest" as national monuments. The act was created to protect archaeological and cultural sites, but it also applied to natural wonders like the Grand Canyon. The act gave the president the power to protect areas of significant natural or cultural value without seeking approval from Congress.
President Theodore Roosevelt and the Grand Canyon
President Roosevelt was a passionate conservationist who visited the Grand Canyon and recognized its significance. In 1908, he declared the Grand Canyon a National Monument under the Antiquities Act. Roosevelt believed that the Grand Canyon was a "natural wonder which, so far as I know, is in kind absolutely unique throughout the world." He saw the designation as a way to protect the canyon from commercial interests and preserve its natural beauty for future generations.
The Creation of the Grand Canyon National Park
In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation that established the Grand Canyon National Park, which encompassed the previously designated National Monument and additional surrounding lands. The park was created to preserve the canyon’s natural beauty and protect it from commercial interests. The Grand Canyon National Park is now one of the most visited national parks in the United States.
Opposition and Controversy Surrounding the Designation
While the designation of the Grand Canyon as a national monument and later a national park was widely celebrated, there was also opposition and controversy. Some residents and businesses in the area saw the designation as a threat to their livelihoods, as they believed it would limit their access to resources. There were also concerns about the impact of tourism on the environment and Native American cultures in the area.
The Grand Canyon as a World Heritage Site
In 1979, the Grand Canyon was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognizing its natural and cultural significance. The designation is a testament to the canyon’s importance on a global scale and further highlights the need to protect it for future generations.
Changes to the Grand Canyon National Park
Over the years, there have been changes to the Grand Canyon National Park. In 2019, the park celebrated its 100th anniversary and launched initiatives to promote sustainability and reduce the impact of tourism. The park has also faced challenges, such as wildfires and threats to the surrounding ecosystem, leading to ongoing efforts to protect and preserve the canyon.
Expanding the Protection of the Grand Canyon
Efforts to protect the Grand Canyon have not stopped at the national park designation. In recent years, there have been calls to expand the protection of the canyon, including proposals for a Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument. These efforts recognize the importance of the canyon and the need to ensure its preservation.
Conclusion: The Legacy of Presidential Action
The Grand Canyon is a testament to the power of presidential action to protect natural wonders. The designation of the canyon as a national monument and later a national park has ensured its protection for over a century. It is a reminder that we must prioritize conservation and preservation efforts to protect our natural heritage for future generations.
References and Further Reading
- National Park Service. (2020). Grand Canyon National Park. https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
- National Park Service. (2019). Grand Canyon National Park Celebrates Centennial.
- National Park Service. (n.d.). Antiquities Act. https://www.nps.gov/archeology/tools/laws/antact.htm
- UNESCO. (n.d.). Grand Canyon National Park. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/75/
- U.S. Department of the Interior. (2020). The Antiquities Act of 1906.