Right now the only ways to visit the floor of the Grand Canyon are to hike there, boat there or to hitch a ride on a mule. But a team of developers and Ben Shelley, president of the Navajo Nation, which owns land in the area, want to change that. They've drawn up plans for a gondola that covers 3,300 vertical feet from the East Rim to the canyon floor, as well as a restaurant, RV park, retail shops, hotel, and more.
The proposed $120 million project has been met with strong opposition.
"It raises serious questions about the impact of up to three million visitors a year to an area that is remote, ecologically sensitive, and sacred to numerous tribes," Nikki Cooley, president of the Grand Canyon River Guides Association (GCRG) and member of the Navajo Nation, told Adventure Journal. "Those questions include irrevocable changes to the viewscape, water issues, sanitation questions, potential impacts to endangered species and the fragile ecosystem of the area, trash, light and noise pollution, and the list goes on."
The development would be situated at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers. Confluence Partners, the team of developers working on the project, estimates that the project would create roughly 2,000 new jobs and bring in $50 million to $95 million a year.
The tram will "provide a unique and unmatched ability for the casual tourist to actually visit the canyon floor and the Colorado River," Confluence Partners said in a statement.
Those protesting the development are concerned about proper disposal and treatment of waste water; the Hopi Tribe worries that the tramway would interfere with the Hopi Trail, which ends at the confluence point; and the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management claim they own the land where the rivers meet, although the Navajo Nation and their developers disagree.
Not to mention potential devastation to the natural ecosystem.
"Let's face it," Cooley said. "The gorgeous, natural view of the Little Colorado River Confluence would be marred forever by the plans of a few men who want to fatten their own wallets."