HISTORY OF THE GRAND CANYON
TIMELINE OF KEY EVENTS
|1893||The Grand Canyon receives its first
federal protection as a National Forest and Game Preserve via a proclamation
by President Benjamin Harrison.
|1908||President Theodore Roosevelt issues a proclamation
creating Grand Canyon National Monument, the precursor of Grand Canyon National
|1916||Congress creates the National Park Service.
|1919||Congress establishes Grand Canyon National Park.
|1938||Professionally-outfitted river trips begin on
the Colorado River within Grand Canyon National Park.
|1953||Regularly scheduled motorized river trips begin
in the Grand Canyon.
|1964||Congress enacts the Wilderness Act, which requires
a survey of all federal lands, including Grand Canyon National Park, to
identify areas to be recommended by the President for possible designation
as wilderness by Congress.
|1971||The Secretary of the Interior forwards to the
President a proposed Grand Canyon wilderness recommendation that, due to
the historic use of motorized watercraft, does not include the Colorado
River. The NPS states that it plans to continue such motorized use.
|1972||President Richard Nixon submits his official Grand
Canyon wilderness recommendation to Congress. Mirroring the NPS proposal,
roughly 500,000 acres of the park’s backcountry, but not the Colorado
River corridor, are included.
|1973||The National Park Service publishes a final environmental
impact statement for a newly proposed Grand Canyon wilderness classification.
This document states that, “the Colorado River was excluded, for the
present, due to usage of motors on float trips. Use of motors on the river
will be phased-out by the end of the 1976 season.”
|1975||Congress enacts the Grand Canyon Enlargement Act,
doubling the size of the park to 1.2 million acres. In considering this
legislation, Congress specifically rejects designating any lands within
the park as wilderness at this time. Instead, this legislation establishes
a new two-year deadline for the Secretary of the Interior to deliver to
the President a wilderness recommendation for the enlarged areas of the
|1977||Before the completion of the river planning process,
the NPS Director signs a final wilderness recommendation for Grand Canyon
National Park that identifies 980,088 acres of the park as suitable for
designation as wilderness, and 131,814 acres, including the Colorado River
corridor, as suitable for designation by Congress as “potential”
wilderness. This recommendation is not transmitted to the Secretary, but
is held in abeyance pending the completion of the initial Colorado River
|1979||The NPS releases the Colorado River Management
Plan draft environmental impact statement, announcing its intent to phase-out
motorized use on the Colorado River over a five-year period. Substantial
|1980||The NPS submits to the Assistant Secretary for
Fish, Wildlife, and Parks a revised final Grand Canyon wilderness recommendation,
classifying 980,000 million acres of the park as “recommended wilderness”
and 132,000 acres, including the Colorado River corridor, as “potential
wilderness,” which presumes the eventual elimination of motorized
|1980||Congress adopts an amendment offered by Senator
Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to the FY’81 Interior appropriations bill that
states: “None of the funds appropriated in this Act shall be used
for the implementation of any management plan for the Colorado River within
Grand Canyon National Park which reduces the number of user days or passenger-launches
for commercial motorized watercraft excursions, for the preferred use period
from all current launch points below that which was available for the same
period of use in the calendar year 1978.”
|1981||The NPS sets aside its 1979 river management proposal
to ban motorized use on the river, and instead implements a revised Colorado
River Management Plan that requires motorized use to continue. The dichotomy
between the agency’s wilderness recommendation that would require
the removal of motorized watercraft if enacted by Congress, and the agency’s
management plan (and resulting concession contracts) that require such motorized
use, is born. At no time since has the agency’s Grand Canyon wilderness
recommendation been formally transmitted to any Secretary of the Interior
or to any President, nor by any President to Congress, despite the statutory
obligation to do so that originated with the Wilderness Act of 1964, and
was repeated with a new statutory deadline of 1977 in the Grand Canyon Enlargement
Act of 1975.
|1989||The NPS implements an updated Colorado River Management
Plan that continues to require motorized recreational use on the river.
|1993||The park superintendent transmits an updated “Final
Wilderness Recommendation for Grand Canyon National Park” to the NPS
Director. He includes a plea for action to eliminate motors on the river
and to encourage Congress to enact a Grand Canyon wilderness bill implementing
the NPS proposal, which identifies 1,109,257 acres as suitable for designation
as wilderness, and 29,820 acres, including the 12,190 acre Colorado River
corridor, as suitable for designation as “potential” wilderness.
|1997||The NPS initiates a long-awaited Colorado River
Management Plan revision process. The effort is stymied by confusion and
controversy arising over the unclear legal vitality of the agency’s
Grand Canyon wilderness recommendation, given its lack of official transmittal
first to the Secretary, then by the Secretary to the President, and finally
by the President to Congress. Wilderness advocates argue that NPS wilderness
management policies require, given the Colorado River corridor’s classification
by the NPS as “potential wilderness,” that the agency immediately
eliminate motorized use on the river.
|1998||The NPS releases for public comment a Draft Wilderness
Management Plan. This plan covers most of the park’s backcountry areas,
but not the Colorado River corridor. Significant confusion results over
the distinction between a NPS wilderness review and recommendation process,
and a NPS administrative management planning process. Such confusion continues
|1998||The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee
on National Parks and Public Lands conducts an oversight hearing on the
park’s draft Wilderness Management Plan.
|1999||The Department of the Interior prepares the internal
“Grand Canyon Wilderness Matrix” document. This document concludes
that because motorized use on the Colorado River is “transitory in
nature,” the NPS is not obligated under the law or its wilderness
management policies to eliminate such use in a proposed “potential
|2000||The NPS suspends work on both the draft Wilderness
Management Plan and the Colorado River Management Plan revision processes.
The park’s superintendent specifically cites the lack of congressional
direction on the wilderness issue as a principal reason for this decision.
|2000||Private boater and wilderness advocacy groups
and individuals sue the NPS over its decision to suspend the wilderness
and river planning efforts and its decision not to immediately remove motorized
use from river. Settlement negotiations commence.
|2001||A settlement agreement is achieved that results
in the dismissal of the case, and a NPS commitment to resume the Colorado
River Management Plan revision process. The river concession contracts are
extended for three years to the end of 2005, the statutory limit.
|2002||The NPS officially resumes its Colorado River
Management Plan revision effort.
|2004||The NPS releases the draft Environmental Impact
Statement as part of its Colorado River Management Plan revision effort.