Editorial: Navajo Nation keeps Grand Canyon free from more developments

Renae Yellowhorse, a spokesperson for Save the Confluence, stands at Confluence Overlook on the East Rim of the Grand Canyon on Navajo Nation west of The Gap, Ariz. Lawmakers on the country's largest American Indian reservation have shot down the measure to build the tram that would have taken visitors to a riverside boardwalk with stores, hotels and restaurants above on the East Rim of the canyon. (Tom Bean via AP)

Renae Yellowhorse, a spokesperson for Save the Confluence, stands at Confluence Overlook on the East Rim of the Grand Canyon on Navajo Nation west of The Gap, Ariz. Lawmakers on the country's largest American Indian reservation have shot down the measure to build the tram that would have taken visitors to a riverside boardwalk with stores, hotels and restaurants above on the East Rim of the canyon. (Tom Bean via AP)

There are perhaps no better guardians for the Grand Canyon than the people who live in and around it.

That’s true for both the native tribes that have called the area home for generations, and the newer residents too. That theory played out this week when the Navajo Nation voted down a controversial proposal to build a massive development on the east rim of the canyon. The project, called Canyon Escalade, would have featured a hotel, a restaurant, a visitor center and a parking lot on the rim overlooking the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers.

It would have also added a tram to take tourists to the canyon floor, with a cafe, an amphitheater, a garden and river walk. Sounds nice anywhere else. At the Grand Canyon, the crown jewel in America’s National Park system, such a large-scale development sounds out of place. Selfishly, we’re glad the members of the Navajo Nation agreed — any competition for tourism in Northern Arizona has the potential to take away from other tourism-dependent economies like ours here at home.

It’s refreshing to consider that the entire ordeal was an example of self-determination and local control. Unlike other recent political issues involving the Grand Canyon, no presidential orders were necessary. No congressional hearings. No court battles. Tribal members simply voted against the project, despite the obvious economic benefits to their communities.

There’s something to be said for keeping the area as pristine as possible. A visit to the Grand Canyon is a breathtaking adventure, even akin to a religious experience for some people, and every bit of human disruption can erode away at the ambiance.

However, on the other side of the canyon, the Hualapai Tribe has proven that a little development on the canyon’s edge can be a welcomed addition. The tribe opened the Grand Canyon Skywalk, and has since created a thriving tourism industry in a rural part of Mohave County, which includes river rafting and helicopter tours of the canyon.

The Navajo project would have enjoyed similar success as the Hualapai’s enterprise — likely exponentially more. And perhaps some day the project will move forward with the tribe’s approval. When that happens, we know any development will be handled with care and sensitivity.

Until then, we’ll get to keep enjoying the pristine ruggedness — even if it’s without the use of a tram.