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3/27/2012 10:01:00 AM
Navajo Nation proposes aerial tram from East Rim to floor of Grand Canyon
Proposed tram could generate up to $70 million a year in revenue for Tribe and bring as many as 2,000 jobs to reservation
Williams-Grand Canyon News

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - A remote and beautiful mesa overlooking the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers - also known as Grand Canyon's East Rim - will not remain tranquil if a resort and aerial tramway are constructed. The tramway would carry tourists from cliff top to water's edge.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly has signed a nonbinding agreement with Scottsdale-based developer Confluence Partners, LLC on Feb. 21 that lists a resort hotel and spa, restaurant, half-mile river walk and RV park as part of a development near Grand Canyon National Park. Shelly says the proposed agreement will bring up to $70 million a year and 2,000 jobs to the reservation. Tribal leaders believe they are missing out on tourist dollars and jobs for their nation by leaving the land undeveloped.

The National Park Service is expressing objections to the large-scale development.

"The only place I can see for them to build on the canyon floor and be on Navajo Nation land, you couldn't even see the confluence from there," Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent David Ubueraga told the Navajo Times last week. "It would be at least a quarter-mile walk."

When the Navajo Times asked whether the National Park Service would allow the development within the park boundaries, Ubueraga replied, "That's some of the most remote and pristine land in the park. Until it's declared wilderness, we have to manage it as such. We're charged with maintaining its solitude and wilderness value."

The area is located approximately 100 miles from Flagstaff off Interstate 40. Because of a land dispute between the Navajo and Hopi tribes, the land has remained undeveloped for decades. Both tribes claim aboriginal ties to it and a construction ban was implemented by former U.S Commissioner of Indian Affairs Robert Bennett when he imposed a ban on home and land improvements in 1966. The ban, which included 700,000 acres, was lifted in 2009.

Five years ago, the Haulapai Tribe opened the Skywalk - a horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that extends 70 feet over the Canyon's edge - near Peach Springs, Ariz. However, most people visiting Grand Canyon still travel to the South Rim.

The proposed tram on Grand Canyon's East Rim would travel along the rim parallel the Colorado River. It would stop at the bottom, where a restaurant would be located. The remainder of the development would be located at the top of the East Rim. The resort is being called "Grand Canyon Escalade."

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