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Grand Canyon, Ariz. – Grand Canyon National Park will be celebrating its 90th Anniversary Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 1:30 p.m. along with a celebratory opening of the Verkamp’s Visitor Center with a ribbon cutting ceremony. The event is open to the public and will take place at the Verkamp’s Visitor Center located near the historic El Tovar in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. Special programs will be offered by the Grand Canyon National Park interpretive staff to commemorate this historic day and visitors will be invited to join park staff for cake and punch following the event.
It was on February 26, 1919, that President Woodrow Wilson signed Senate Bill 390, which created Grand Canyon National Park, an unparalleled landscape to be protected and enjoyed for future generations. By the time it became a national park, the Grand Canyon’s timeless beauty was well known throughout the country and various regions of the world.
Tourists had been coming to see and experience the Canyon since before the turn of the century. By 1919, tourist facilities were already established on the North and South Rims and within the Inner Canyon.
One of the early entrepreneurs at the Grand Canyon was John G. Verkamp, who first sold curios to tourists out of a tent near the Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim in 1898. A few years later, he built and opened Verkamp’s Curios. The retail store closed this past September after operating for more than 100 years, but the National Park Service (NPS) wanted to reuse the historic structure, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and have a greater presence in the Grand Canyon Village. So, the agency, along with its long-standing partner, the Grand Canyon Association (GCA), officially opened the Verkamp’s Visitor Center in November after developing and installing exhibits that profile the history of the Verkamp family and their role in the park and community of Grand Canyon.
“It is only fitting to simultaneously celebrate the Grand Canyon’s 90th Anniversary and honor the Verkamp legacy here on the South Rim,” said Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Steve Martin. “The Verkamp family has been an integral part of the Canyon’s history and has helped to make this park what it is for residents and the millions of visitors who have ventured here over the years.”
Grand Canyon National Park is a World Heritage Site visited by approximately 4.5 million people each year. This figure is much higher than the 44,000 people who visited the park in 1919, but the Canyon was no less a source of inspiration for these early tourists. The Grand Canyon received national park status in 1919, but concerned citizens and leaders had been working diligently for its protection since late in the 19th century.
President Benjamin Harrison set aside the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve in 1893. Although this reserve status gave the Canyon some level of protection, there were many people who felt that more was needed to conserve the resources of this amazing landscape. And the national mood was in their favor. The turn of the 20th century marked a time in the nation’s history when the conservation of natural resources and the national park idea was gaining momentum throughout the United States.
President Theodore Roosevelt first visited the Grand Canyon in 1903 and was deeply moved by the unique landscape. He felt that the Canyon should be left for future generations to enjoy and experience in its pristine state. In 1906, Roosevelt signed a bill that proclaimed the area the Grand Canyon Game Reserve. And in 1908, through authority granted to him in the Antiquities Act, Roosevelt established Grand Canyon National Monument. Arizona became a state in 1912 and national park status came a few years later.
Since 1919, millions of people have traveled from around the world to take in the Canyon’s awe-inspiring vistas. Yet, the Grand Canyon is not only a tourist destination. It has also been a home to various people off and on for thousands of years. The origins and histories of various Native American tribes in the Southwest are closely tied to the Canyon. Settlers from the eastern part of the United States were drawn to the landscape’s rugged beauty starting in the middle 19th century.
Today, the Canyon is home to approximately 2,000 year-round residents. Whether taking in the sights on the rim or descending into its depths, the Canyon has been a source of inspiration for tourists and residents alike. This is one message that the NPS is now trying to convey at the new Verkamp’s Visitor Center.
“We share so much about the park resources with visitors, but our park residents are resources too,” said Grand Canyon Exhibit Specialist Jennie Albrinck. “They support the park and keep it running, serve the visitors, and all the while carve out a community for themselves. What we were going for at Verkamp's Visitor Center was the idea that while Grand Canyon is an amazing national park, for many of us it is also our home.”
The exhibits at the Verkamp’s Visitor Center bring the Grand Canyon community alive. People have the opportunity to explore Native American involvement in the community; discover how people have come to the Grand Canyon as residents and visitors; and how, over time, residents have come together to make the Canyon their home. The welcome sign invites visitors to make it their home too.
The exhibits at the new visitor center explore community development at the Grand Canyon, and this subject could not be effectively conveyed without talking about the Verkamp family. Verkamp’s Curios, which was constructed in 1906, was operated by three generations of family members, who provided a wide range of gift items to a century’s worth of visitors. The family worked hard to build and maintain positive relationships with regional Native American artists, whose handcrafts were sold at the retail store. In addition to operating Verkamp’s Curios, family members were always involved in community affairs. Over the years, they participated in the planning and financing of the present community building, Grand Canyon School, Shrine of the Ages and medical clinic on the South Rim.
The Grand Canyon’s rugged and beautiful landscape has drawn people, such as the Verkamp family, for decades. Yet, the Canyon is not just a place of beauty and inspiration – it is an international icon that has had far-reaching effects on society. The programs administered by the NPS and Grand Canyon National Park are essential government services that are closely tied to our nation’s past and its future. These services include providing for the public’s health and education; enhancing the public’s ecological, archaeological and historical understanding; contributing to the nation’s economic growth; meeting of tribal trust responsibilities; and enhancing our international relationships through our contact with international visitors.
Grand Canyon National Park directly contributes approximately $750 million into the economy of the Colorado Plateau. For every $1 million invested in park programs, hundreds of jobs are created, not only in the hospitality industry, but in all aspects of the region’s economy. And as we embark into a time of economic uncertainty, Grand Canyon and other national parks can continue to play a role in the economic stability of our nation realizing that critical functions must be maintained in the face of declining financial resources.
Years of inadequate funding have put Grand Canyon National Park at risk. A 2006 report identified a deferred maintenance backlog totaling $262 million. The report identified buildings that need to be renovated for the safety of employees and visitors, trails that require major improvements to remain open, and a water system that needs replacement to sustainably function. These are just a few of the projects that need to be completed to ensure a safe and rewarding experience for residents and millions of visitors as the Park moves into the next centennial. The improvements that are needed at Grand Canyon National Park are key to the continued economic vitality of the Colorado Plateau.
As the Park celebrates its 90th Anniversary and prepares for the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service, Park management is striving for the Grand Canyon to be a model of good government, dynamic stewardship, and above all, continue to be an inspiration for the people of the United States and the world.
“As we celebrate Grand Canyon National Park’s 90th Anniversary and move toward the centennial of the National Park Service in 2016, we should look back at the integral roles the Grand Canyon and the National Park Service have played in our nation’s history,” said Superintendent Martin. “And more importantly, we should consider their place in our nation’s future.”
The Verkamp’s Visitor Center is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. MST.The NPS currently offers two ranger programs at the visitor center. A rim hike leaves Verkamp’s each morning at 10:00 a.m. and a history talk is presented each day at 11:00 a.m. During the busy summer season, other ranger programs will be offered including children’s story time, cultural displays and nature walks. The GCA operates a bookstore within the visitor center, so people also have the opportunity to browse and purchase high-quality educational materials that focus on the natural and cultural history of the Grand Canyon region.
For more information about the 90th Anniversary celebration and celebratory opening of Verkamp’s Visitor Center, please contact Grand Canyon Public Affairs Officer Maureen Oltrogge at (928) 638-7779 or David Smith, Park Naturalist at (928) 638-7765. For more information about visiting Grand Canyon National Park, go to the park’s Web site at https://www.nps.gov/grca or call (928) 638-7888.