Grand Canyon Named America’s Most Endangered River

When Teddy Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument more than a century ago, he famously said: “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

Last week, American Rivers named the Grand Canyon America’s Most Endangered River.

The Grand Canyon and the American people have faced down threats of dams and developments over the decades. But as public lands across the West are threatened with being sold to the highest bidder and the Colorado River continues to run dry, the Grand Canyon faces its biggest threat yet—three of them, to be exact, each with a key decision this year. First there is the massive Escalade construction project that would include building a gondola to bring more than 10,000 people to the confluence, the heart of the canyon. Second is the threat of pollution from uranium mining on the north and south rims. And third, if the town of Tusayan expands, vital groundwater supplies could be completely tapped. (Read “Grand Canyon Development Plans Put River on Endangered List.”)

Filmmaker and photographer Pete McBride released a short film to help tell this story and encourage Americans to speak up. We caught up with McBride to get his take on the threats facing the Grand Canyon.

In 2013, you made I am Red, highlighting the Colorado River as America’s Most Endangered River. This year, the Colorado River tops the list again, this time with its Grand Canyon. What does this say about the state of this river basin?

Through my work, I’ve been fortunate to see a lot of the world and its waterways, particularly the Colorado River. One theme that is constant where ever I go is when we ask too much of a limited resource or places of beauty and awe, like the Grand Canyon, they either disappear or change irrevocably. The Colorado River delta, once a vast desert estuary, is a perfect example. It has already vanished. So my fear with today’s development interests in and around the Grand Canyon, is if we aren’t careful, this natural cathedral will change into something different than what we love today.

Over a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt said about the Grand Canyon: “Leave it as it is.” Today, the Grand Canyon faces serious threats that would change it irrevocably. In your own words, what do you think about the development threatening the Grand Canyon?

I am for smart economic growth and for people seeing the wonder of the Grand Canyon—by foot, boat, or mule—but not by means that create lasting, “marring” changes on what the ages perfected.

If you could encourage Americans to do one thing to protect the Grand Canyon, what would it be?

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The best way for Americans and others to protect the Canyon—the world’s natural Sistine Chapel if you will—is to share their concerns and speak up for what you love. The public spoke up once before for the Grand Canyon—so loudly that two dams proposed inside the park, were prevented. If folks care and want to see the park left as it is, then they should say so.

I just hope my video helps to inspire a few to speak up for the canyon and the river inside it, one I admire and respect.

To learn more and speak up, please visit americanrivers.org.

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