In response to a few inquiries on Facebook and Canyon Collective.
The letter CAC posted was sent to Superintendent Uberuaga by email last Tuesday. We have yet to get a reply. Let’s give the Superintendent a little more time to reply before getting too fired up. Of course, the Coalition of American Canyoneers is preparing to work with members of Congress to be sure the intent of the 1975 Grand Canyon Enlargement Act is carried out, but we hope it’s not required.
There has been a lot of back channel work between various user groups on this Great Thumb access issue. I would especially like to thank Jeff Ingram who was able to provide us a copy of the 1982 Plan that Congress required the DOI to prepare as part of the 1975 GC Enlargement Act. Interestingly enough, the plan was authored by the BIA (part of DOI) and the NPS apparently had little to do with it. The BIA represented the interests of the Havasupai Tribe. Recreational users, through the NPS, had little if any representation. Regardless, much of this Plan remains unimplemented 31 years later including the clear requirement for recreational user access. Here are a few things that hikers and canyoneers should keep in mind on this matter:
1 – The 1975 Act did not require the DOI to involve the public in conversations with the Havasupai Tribe. We applaud the fact that Superintendent Uberuaga is finally having these Great Thumb access conversations. Many Superintendents have come and gone without taking this on. Our advisor’s indicate that it’s fully within his right to have these “Nation to Nation” talks in private.
2 – It is equally clear that neither Congress nor the 1982 Plan contemplated elimination of day hiking rights. The Congressional record is littered with references to preserving a ¼ mile setback from the rim of Great Thumb as part of GCNP and affording recreational access. We don’t understand how a day hiking closure on GCNP lands could possibly be part of this “deal.” A closure action that is controversial requires a specific process under CFR 36 1.5(b). Our members are on edge about this issue. It feels like a repeat of the Deer Creek Narrows closure where it was determined, after the closure was completed, that the proper process was not followed. We want to hear the Superintendent’s reasons for a day hiking closure. Is there a resource impact issue that we’re not aware of? If I get an overnight permit can I still “day hike”? Is the permit required as a way to monitor use? Can I still visit Royal Arch via the Pt. Huitzil route if I have a backcountry permit? What if I need to day hike to Apache Point (within GCNP) to place a water cache for a loop hike exit? What if I just want to take in all of the incredible rim views? These are all common day hike activities in the area referenced in the Superintendent’s letter to the Havasupai Tribal Chairman.
3 – The Great Thumb Mesa gets much more visitation than I believe the NPS or the Havasupai are aware of. There are many people who have been willing to frequently and quietly access GCNP via various Great Thumb routes. We’re unaware of any data collected by the NPS to determine the appropriate number of permits for access via Great Thumb. My late friend Randy Udall is a perfect example. Randy had been sneaking onto Great Thumb successfully for many years. He visited Great Thumb at least 3 times last year alone. He would have consumed 30% of the permits proposed in this arrangement. Randy tried to visit GCNP via Great Thumb last April and he was stopped by a tribal member and forced to turn around. He went down the Pt. Huitzil route as a plan B. I laughed when he told me about his experience and I reminded him of the irony of the whole situation. Randy’s father, Mo Udall, figured very prominently in the 1975 GC Enlargement Act that returned Great Thumb to the Havasupai. Mo was strident in the need for recreational access and limiting any chance of commercial development. Randy never got to go back to his favorite place. He died in July and I previously wrote about it here: Yahoo Grand Canyon Hikers Forum
The thought that Randy’s “Plan B” access down the Pt. Huitzil route could now also be closed is, well, too much to bear. Randy was a prominent conservationist, but his brothers followed in their Dad’s footsteps and are both US Senators. What would Tom and Mark think of all of this? I plan to call them soon to send them a copy of the incredible story Randy sent me about one of his Great Thumb adventures. Someday, with the family’s permission, I might post it here. All of you would really connect with it.
We’re still arming ourselves with more documents and I’m hopeful we’ll hear from the Superintendent soon. If there is a closure as part of this deal, I sincerely hope it gets the public comment it deserves in the Backcountry Management Plan process (due out this spring). I’m certain the public will contribute many ideas toward a better solution.
Many people here may not be aware of this incredible part of Grand Canyon, so we thought the Coalition of American Canyoneers should post some photos of what’s at stake. Check out our Facebook page here (CAC on Facebook) and we’ll post new photos of unique places under Great Thumb each day until Christmas. We hope to inspire more of you to get involved with this issue. Hopefully some of you will get inspired to use the access Congress required to see this remarkable part of your National Park.
Board of Directors
Coalition of American Canyoneers