The Grand Canyon and Highest and Best Land Use

On this day in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declares the massive Grand Canyon in northwestern Arizona a national monument. In 1903, Roosevelt had visited the site and said: “The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison–beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world . . . Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”

Though Native Americans lived in the area as early as the 13th century, the first European sighting of the canyon wasn’t until 1540, by members of an expedition headed by the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Because of its remote and inaccessible location, several centuries passed before North American settlers truly explored the canyon. In 1869, geologist John Wesley Powell led a group of 10 men in the first difficult journey down the rapids of the Colorado River and along the length of the 277-mile gorge in four rowboats.

After TR’s proclamation, further Senate bills to establish the site as a national park were introduced and defeated in 1910 and 1911, before the Grand Canyon National Park Act was finally signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919. The National Park Service, established in 1916, assumed administration of the park.

The creation of the park was an early success of the conservation movement. Its national park status may have helped thwart proposals to dam the Colorado River within its boundaries. The park, which covers 1,217,262 acres, or 1,901.972 square miles of unincorporated area in Coconino and Mohave counties, received nearly six million recreational visitors in 2016, which is the second highest count of all US national parks after Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

One should really see it for themselves, and imagine what it must have looked like when beheld by the first human to gaze upon it. Then picture what it would look like dammed up and filled nearly to the rim with water for the convenience of a power utility, and in so doing decide which is the better example of the highest and best land use.

And here the lesson endeth.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.

What say you, the people?