The Grand Canyon wants to change how to manage backcountry areas as more outdoor enthusiasts take to the park's open spaces, proposing a requirement for hikers using the most popular trails to spend a few dollars on a permit.
Millions of people visit the Grand Canyon each year, taking in the sweeping views from developed areas where they can stroll along the rim, grab a bite to eat and hop on a shuttle bus to other outlooks. Far fewer people venture into the 1.1 million acres that make up the backcountry, including anything below the canyon rim.
Park officials are trying to get a better handle on how many people are walking down trails such as Bright Angel and South Kaibab from the South Rim and North Kaibab from the North Rim. Three options for revising a 1988 backcountry management plan include requiring visitors to get a day-use permit for hiking about 5 miles or more below the rim and paying a fee of about $5.
Park superintendent Dave Uberuaga said the system would allow hikers to read up on the weather, physical demands of hiking and traffic on the trail to improve their experience.
"Our intent is not to prevent them from doing it, and we're not talking about limits," he said Monday. "We're talking about educating them so they know what they're getting into."
The proposals for backcountry management also address the more remote areas of the park and relatively new recreation activities such as canyoneering, climbing and backpacking trips that require short travel on the Colorado River.
They aim to reduce conflicts among those outdoor groups seeking the solitude of the backcountry and to ensure the park's resources are protected. Between 30,000 and 35,000 people a year travel to areas that can take days or weeks to access.
The option preferred by the park includes reducing group sizes for overnight backpacking, developing more campsites and limiting commercially guided services.
Another option is to leave things as is. The public has 90 days to comment on the proposals. Public meetings are planned Wednesday at the Grand Canyon and Monday in Flagstaff.