Proposal keeps mules on Canyon trails but scales back trips on Bright Angel
DAILY SUN STAFF | Posted: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 1:00 pm
A Grand Canyon Park Service management proposal released today reins in the number of mule rides down the popular Bright Angel Trail and shifts the majority of rides to along the South Rim, rather than into Canyon.
Wear and tear on the trails and conflicts between mule rides and hikers prompted the Park Service to consider alternative mule and stock use plans for the Canyon. On one hand, the mules are a historical icon that help the less able-bodied see more of the Canyon. On the other, hikers complain about them and their waste and conflicts between mule riders and hikers.
The Park Service's environmental assessment considered five options, including a "no-action alternative," which would have continued current mule operations stock use within the national park. The public has 45 days to comment on the proposal. A final decision could be published as soon as June.
The "preferred alternative," Alternative B, dramatically scales back the number of mule rides into the Canyon via the Bright Angel Trail. Currently, up 20 rides are offered to Phantom Ranch and another 20 rides go to Plateau Point and back. Alternative B would end day trips to Plateau Point completely and cut in half the number of mule trips to Phantom Ranch.
Similarly, the preferred alternative halves the number of mule rides to Phantom Ranch via the South Kaibab Trail as well.
In exchange, the proposal allows up 40 rides daily along the Rim from the South Kaibab Trailhead and parallel the road toward Yaki Point.
Park officials said each year, the park receives numerous complaints regarding trail conditions and mule waste on the trails. Both stock users and hikers have expressed concerns regarding the safety of stock users, the lack of knowledge regarding trail etiquette from hikers and discourtesy from some stock users.
Additionally, the trails used by mules are in poor shape, with trail crews unable to afford enough staff to keep up repairs, park officials have said in the past. Of the main corridor, the Bright Angel Trail continues to deteriorate in part because of a backlog of trail maintenance across the park.
The agency has about $1.5 million annually for all trail work in the Grand Canyon. Park officials say they need twice that amount. The Park Service says the fees paid by mule riders to use the trails do not keep up with repairs.
According to today's press release, Park Service officials considered the following objectives for the management plan:
— Provide opportunities for mule and stock use within Grand Canyon National Park to as large a cross section of visitors as practicable.
— Establish appropriate levels and types of stock use, such as number of stock per day and group size, on park trails that will allow for improved maintenance and reduced resource impacts and costs associated with trail maintenance.
— Through improved maintenance and operations, reduce conflicts between stock users and hikers on park trails.
— Identify optimal stock facility locations, including infrastructure size and locations for improving health, safety and overall visitor experience.
The National Park Service will host three public meetings to provide information and answer questions. The meetings will be in an open house format with a brief introduction at the beginning of each meeting provided by park staff. The public is invited to stop by at any time between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. at one of the following locations:
— March 22, Grand Canyon, South Rim/Community Building
— March 24, Kanab, Utah, Holiday Inn Express, 217 South 100 East
— March 25, Flagstaff, Little America Hotel, 2515 E. Butler Avenue
The EA can be reviewed online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grca
by clicking on the project name, and then scrolling to "Open for Public Comments." Comments can be submitted online at the same Web address (the preferred method), mailed to Steve Martin, superintendent, Grand Canyon National Park, Attention: Stock Use EA, P.O. Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023, or provided at one of the public meetings listed below. Comments will be accepted through April 30, 2010.
Preferred Alternative B
South Rim Commercial Stock Use
-- Up to 10,000 commercial mule rides, including inner canyon and above rim rides would be offered each year, as compared to current annual average use of 8,315 rides.
-- On Bright Angel Trail, up to 10 rides per day would be allowed to Phantom Ranch, but no Plateau Point day rides from the South Rim would not be offered under this alternative.
-- On South Kaibab Trail, up to 10 rides per day from Phantom Ranch; plus up to 12 pack stock round trips would be allowed to Phantom Ranch each day.
-- An above the rim ride from Yaki Point area east toward Shoshone Point would be allowed at a level of 40 rides per day, with the concessionaire responsible for maintenance of the rim trail-through. (What a novel
-- The current mule barn in Grand Canyon Village would house a small number of concessionaire stock; the majority of concessionaire stock operations would be moved to the South Kaibab Trailhead.
North Rim Commercial Use INCREASES
-- Up to 8,000 commercial mule rides, including inner canyon and above rim rides, would be offered each year, as compared to current annual average use of 7,072 rides.
-- On the North Kaibab Trail, up to 40 rides per day would be allowed to the Supai Tunnel with no more than 20 rides on the trail at one time. The North Kaibab Trail would be open for commercial stock to the Supai Tunnel, but not to Roaring Springs.
-- Up to 40 one-hour rides on the Ken Patrick Trail to the Uncle Jim junction would be allowed per day with no more than 20 mules on this section of trail at any one time.
-- Up to 20 half-day rides to Uncle Jim Point would be allowed daily.
-- The hitching rail at Uncle Jim Point would remain in place and a one-stall composting toilet would be installed to replace the existing temporary toilet.
Private Stock Use
-- Overnight below the rim groups would be allowed with up to six stock and six people per group. Day use (allowed both above and below the rim) would be allowed up to 12 stock and 12 people per group.