Canyon Sketches Vol 14 - Oct. 2009

Native Plant Restoration at the S. Rim Visitor Center

By Allyson Mathis, Lori Makarick and Jan Busco

3 crew members replanting a large pinyon pine.
Replanting a large pinyon pine.

Preserving native vegetation is an integral part of the National Park Service’s mission at Grand Canyon National Park.

Park staff work to control invasive plant species and to restore natural vegetation in areas that have been impacted by public use.

Every construction project in the park, such as the improvement in visitor facilities at Mather Point and the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, is designed to minimize impacts on the park’s plants and incorporates vegetation restoration work at its completion.

The work in fall 2009 to replant native vegetation near the Grand Canyon Visitor Center is the final stage of a restoration project that began in summer 2007, long before the first shovel broke ground.

Tusayan flameflower (Phemeranthus validulus)
The rare Tusayan flameflower

Each restoration project begins with a complete survey of the existing plant populations. Biologists from the park’s Division of Science and Resource Management identified trees, shrubs and grasses that could be salvaged to later be replanted at the end of the project.

A rare plant, Tusayan flameflower (Phemeranthus validulus), that was growing in the construction zone, received special protection. In August 2008, park biologists carefully unearthed and salvaged forty-five of these small, delicate plants and replanted them in protected sites nearby. Read more...

more than 100 large trees were saved
More than 100 large trees were saved.
More than one hundred large trees were saved prior to construction using heavy equipment to extricate them and by building boxes around their root balls. Most of these trees are stored on site, where they are cared for and monitored until it is time to replant them.

Once construction is completed and these trees are replanted, they will give the landscape a natural appearance and help speed the recovery of the surrounding vegetative community.

Crews, with the help of volunteers, collected seeds from 50 species of native plants and salvaged more than 5000 plants prior to the start of construction. Read more...
The park native plant nursery.
The park's native plant nursery.

The park native plant nursery and the National Resource Conservation Service used these seeds to grow 23,000 trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses to be planted as part of the restoration of the site.

Nearly 300 pounds of grass seed produced from stock initially collected in the park will be spread in restoration zones.

Using seed only from local plants maintains the genetic integrity of Grand Canyon’s plant populations.

large pile of native topsoil
Native topsoil was collected and stored.
The construction contractor also collected and stored more than 5,000 cubic yards of native topsoil before construction began because it contains a wealth of native seeds and soil microorganisms.

Spreading this soil in restoration areas will jump start the reestablishment of healthy soil and plant communities and speed the recovery process.

heavy equipment and workers at the site.
A great enviornment for exotics.
Controlling the spread of exotic plant species such as Russian thistle, Dalmatian toadflax and spotted knapweed is also part of all vegetation restoration projects.

Construction projects provide a great environment for these species to gain a foothold in the park because of their ability to aggressively invade disturbed areas.
2 SCA volunteers holding tumbleweed.
SCA volunteers remove invasive plants.
Park staff and volunteers removed as many invasive plants as possible prior to and during construction in order to minimize the need for future control efforts.

Invasive plant control will continue after the construction is complete to ensure that native plant populations are established in restoration areas.
Volunter transplanting a small plant.
Planting should be finished this year.

Major planting along roads, parking lots and foot paths in the Mather Point and Grand Canyon Visitor Center area should be finished by early December 2009. An additional phase of restoration work will begin in January 2010 with the removal of the parking lot at Mather Point.

When the project is completed, visitors will be able to experience native vegetation throughout the area. Vegetation program managers hope to replicate the success of the 2008 Hermit Road rehabilitation in which visitor facilities were greatly improved and the native vegetation was restored with more than 95% of plantings surviving.


How You Can Be Involved

The Grand Canyon National Park is looking for willing volunteers to assist in the vegetation restoration aspect of the Grand Canyon Visitor Center Improvements Project, as well as in other projects, including the recently rehabilitated Hermit Road and Desert View entrance station.

You can find available dates, contacts, and project information at and

Visitors walking past the S. Rim Visitor Center.
The South Rim Visitor Center

nps photo by Michael Quinn


Last updated: April 30, 2023

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Grand Canyon, AZ 86023



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