Grand Canyon National Park Finally Closes, Gets New Superintendent From HQ

Grand Canyon National Park          Photo: Julie Jacobson, AP

After a resident tested positive last week for COVID-19, the Interior Department finally closed Grand Canyon National Park to the public.  The local health officials in Arizona had called for it given the increase in the county’s numbers of positive tests and a large outbreak of the virus on neighboring Navajo Tribal lands.  Meanwhile, the Secretary appointed a lawyer from Interior Department headquarters — an unusual choice that many questioned given that the new superintendent had never served in the National Park Service much less run a park.

Why This Matters:  Again the Trump Administration was behind in recognizing the coronavirus threat to communities near national parks.  And they may complain about the “deep state” but the Trump team has mastered the art of appointing loyalists into key government posts.  Ordinarily, a coveted spot like this would go to someone who had experience running a Park like this one — the second most visited.  There are two major developments right outside the Park that the new superintendent will have a major say in  — one is a major resort and the other is uranium mining.  Either one would be bad news for one of our country’s crown jewels.

The New Superintendent

While the new appointee, Ed Keable, has worked for the Interior Department for more than 20 years, he has never held a position like this one.  The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks issued a strong statement opposing Keable’s appointment.

Ed Keable is not qualified to manage and lead a complicated park such as the Grand Canyon. While Mr. Keable may possess the ‘passion’ and ‘leadership skills’ that Acting Director Vela referenced in his statement, it does not mean that Mr. Keable has the knowledge, skills, and ability to be superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, one of the most high-profile, complex, and heavily visited national park operations in the System.”

There have been issues surrounding the management of the Park for many years, including accusations of a hostile work environment, sexual harassment, and wasteful spending.

The Possible Developments Just Outside the Park

As we have written before, the President has declared uranium a critical mineral for national security purposes thereby providing a justification for lifting a moratorium on land near the Park that President Obama put in place in 2012.  Opening up the land near the Park for mining is likely to be an issue in the important Arizona Senate races and the Presidential election this year.  In addition, there is a possible resort development being pushed by an Italian company that could bring more than 2,000 housing units and several million square feet of commercial space within just outside its boundaries, which would impact groundwater flows that feed the canyon’s springs and hanging gardens.

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