Rainbow Bridge
Administrative History
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The Modern Monument: Managing Rainbow Bridge, 1955-1993

When Congress passed the Colorado River Storage Project Act in 1956, Rainbow Bridge NM was already part of the national recreation lexicon. While Park Service personnel, politicians, and environmentalists sparred over the proper and effective means to protecting the bridge from the inevitable encroachment of Lake Powell waters, the monument still required daily management. Despite the national attention focused on this remote 160 acres of federal land, the practical considerations of daily visitation, trail maintenance, and cooperation with the Navajo Nation continued. This chapter focuses on the decisions and plans that made that daily process both possible and productive. Much of the tenor of today's monument was shaped in theory and practice between 1956 and 1993 by dedicated Park Service personnel who stayed focused on "at hand" issues in spite of the national furor over the integrity of the monument's boundaries. This period began with the Mission 66 program and culminated with the General Management Plan of 1993. Because of the unique location of Rainbow Bridge NM, bordered on three sides by the Navajo reservation, as well as the controversial history of the Paiute Strip, the evolving relationship between the Park Service and the Navajo Nation dominated most decision-making issues. Between 1955 and 1993, modernism and traditionalism continued to intersect at Rainbow Bridge.

With the dam at Glen Canyon a foregone conclusion, local Park Service personnel turned their attention to the internal needs of the monument. Trail improvements, rest room facilities, and maintenance were just some of the issues at hand in 1956. Visitation had increased steadily from 142 people in 1923 to 1,081 in 1955. In the decade after World War II, park visitation nationwide increased every year, reaching a record high of more than 50 million people in 1955. [304] This figure represented a 236 percent increase in nationwide visitation since 1941. Since its beginning in 1916, the National Park Service operated under the philosophy of Stephen Mather: encouraging tourism brought people to the parks which translated into congressional support for the national park system which in turn ensured the survival of the parks. It was a good philosophy, but it assumed limited visitation growth. No one at the Park Service could have predicted the general post-World War II affluence that most Americans enjoyed. Nor was anyone prepared for the way that affluence translated into dramatic increases in park and monument visitation. This intense shift to maximum use of the parks by the public meant exponentially greater pressures on all Park Service personnel as well as individual park resources. The popular phrase among Park Service personnel during the 1950s was that the public was "loving the parks to death." [305]

The Park Service's philosophy progressed into one that encouraged development and control at the individual park level as a means of preserving and maintaining park resources for the longest possible period. In 1962, Yellowstone superintendent Lemuel Garrison called this new approach the "paradox of protection by development." [306] The idea of protecting the park system through planned development was the backbone of Director Conrad Wirth's Mission 66 program. Succeeding Newton P. Drury in 1951, Wirth inherited a Park Service administration plagued by complaints from visitors over the condition of park resources and the lack of public facilities. Historian Bernard DeVoto, in his famous 1953 Harper's Weekly article, stated flatly that many of the most popular national parks should be closed because of poor conditions. DeVoto was one of the first people to make public the poor living conditions of Park Service personnel employed at various high-profile destinations such as Yosemite and Yellowstone. For all his bluster, though, DeVoto was right about one major point: the park system needed a general planning overhaul, and Wirth designed the Mission 66 proposal to meet that need.

Mission 66 was a ten-year plan which focused on renovating existing park facilities as well as public use resources. Wirth announced the plan at a Washington, D.C. banquet on February 8, 1956. Personnel at Navajo NM, led by Superintendent Foy L. Young, had already prepared a prospectus for implementing Mission 66 at Rainbow Bridge NM. Young's prospectus was completed by July 1955. Review of the plan continued through the remainder of 1955. One month after Director Wirth's announcement. Associate Director E.T. Scoyen approved the summary prospectus for Rainbow Bridge NM. [307] Planning was tentative in early 1956, given the uncertainty of the final scope of the Colorado River Storage Project. Park Service personnel revised the prospectus on the assumption that Congress would approve the CRSP, stating, "completion of the Glen Canyon Dam by the Bureau of Reclamation will open an entirely new era in our operation and management of this area. It is estimated that at least 10,000 visitors a year will then reach the monument, via boat and trail." The basic problems that Park Service personnel faced revolved around the fact that Rainbow Bridge NM was completely undeveloped. Based on the projected completion date of Glen Canyon Dam and the creation of Lake Powell, they barely had ten years to get ready for the definite and massive influx of visitors who would reach the monument via the Lake Powell corridor. [308]

The formal Rainbow Bridge Mission 66 prospectus, submitted April 23, 1956, called for enlarging the monument's boundaries to accommodate necessary facilities, trail improvements, construction of utility and residential buildings, utility systems, and some level of permanent staff. One year later, Director Wirth approved the prospectus. The development plan included a visitor center, campfire circle, campground, signage, and comfort stations. It also provided for both year-round and seasonal staffing and the facilities necessary to accommodate those additions. No independent supervision existed at this time at the monument; the Superintendent at Navajo NM also managed Rainbow Bridge. Management of the monument was not transferred to the auspices of Glen Canyon NRA until 1964. Bearing this in mind, the Mission 66 prospectus for Rainbow Bridge was a radical departure from the management philosophy employed up to this point at the monument. In that context, Mission 66, as it was applied at Rainbow Bridge, represented the best example of dynamic Park Service management in the ever confrontational 1950s. Within one year of recognizing what the CRSP would mean to visitation at the bridge, the Park Service responded with a plan that would meet those demands. [309]

Unfortunately, the application of the Mission 66 prospectus ran into difficulties between 1957 and 1966. There was some activity toward improving trails in the monument. But trail improvements and other development involved land beyond the monument's boundaries. Since the monument was bordered on three sides by the Navajo reservation, this meant cooperating with the Navajo Nation. Visitation was so infrequent at Rainbow Bridge before the 1950s that development had not been an issue. As a result, Park Service personnel were not often exposed to the opportunity to negotiate directly with the Navajo Nation over any significant issues. These opportunities grew more numerous as the need to develop and manage Rainbow Bridge grew more intense.

In 1956, Glen Canyon Dam was at least five years from completion; indeed, after the success of the Sierra Club at Echo Park Canyon it was possible that Glen Canyon Dam might suffer a similar defeat in spite of Congressional approval of the CRSP. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club wielded genuine political power in the mid-1950s. In the meantime, Park Service personnel were faced with implementing much needed improvements at Rainbow Bridge. Senator Barry Goldwater spearheaded one of the largest trail improvement projects in 1959. Goldwater owned the primary interest in Rainbow Lodge, located at the foot of Navajo Mountain. The lodge's manager and co-owner, Myles Headrick, thought that Lake Powell would definitely mean a new, water-based line of visitation to the monument. This would have definitely cut into the lodge's traditional customer base. In response, lodge management decided to improve the existing land-based line of travel from the lodge to the monument in an attempt to make trail approaches to the bridge as inviting as water approaches. Based on this belief, Headrick persuaded Goldwater to lobby the Department of the Interior for approval to improve fourteen miles of trail from Rainbow Lodge to the bridge. The plan met with some initial resistance. But key NPS personnel, including then Regional Director Hugh M. Miller, lobbied to see the trail improved. On August 5, 1959 the Park Service's efforts met with approval from the Navajo Nation. The Nation viewed the improvement of the trail as mutually beneficial to themselves and the Park Service. The Nation's only stipulation was that the majority of men hired to carry out the improvements be Navajo and that construction remain limited to the linear boundaries of the proposed trail. [310]

The trail improvements proposed by Goldwater and Headrick raised an interesting problem between the Park Service and the Navajo Nation, a problem the Park Service had not encountered before. Most of the proposed trail was outside the boundaries of the monument. BIA Acting General Superintendent K.W. Dixon pointed out to Hugh Miller, then NPS Region Three Director, that the proposed trail would require a right-of-way grant from the Nation. The Park Service believed it only needed a BIA permit and the consent of the Nation to conduct immediate improvements and future maintenance. But consent from the Nation only authorized work to commence and did not guarantee any future agreement. [311] To make matters worse, between 1959 and 1961 the issue of protective measures at the monument consumed Park Service personnel. Trail improvements as well as applications for formal right-of-way were put on the back-burner while the Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation negotiated over protecting Rainbow Bridge from the waters of Lake Powell.

The controversy over protective measures did more than de-emphasize Park Service plans for trail improvements. It also heightened awareness among the Navajo Nation over the potential commercial significance of Lake Powell and Glen Canyon NRA. The Nation knew that it had a vested interest in maintaining as much shore access to the future lake as possible. That access promised real economic potential in the form of docks, concessions, and tour operations. This meant that negotiations over the proposed trail improvements and the associated rights-of-way had to be conducted in light of what those rights-of-way meant to Tribal commercial development at Lake Powell. During negotiations over the trail improvements, the Park Service realized that it needed some form of a "cooperative agreement" with the Nation in order to commence improvements and continue effective management of the monument.

The cooperative agreement was a prerequisite for authorizing Park Service funds to improve non-Park Service lands. NPS Solicitor Richard A. Buddeke noted to Miller that based on the Basic Authorities Act of 1946 (60 Stat. 885; 16 U.S.C., Sec. 17j2b) the Park Service could appropriate funds for trail improvements and maintenance for lands "under the jurisdiction of other agencies of the Government, devoted to recreational use and pursuant to cooperative agreements." [312] The "other" agency in this instance was the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Field Solicitor Merritt Barton observed that without a cooperative agreement, the Park Service would have no legal authority to construct or maintain the trail to Rainbow Bridge. [313] Pursuing the cooperative agreement raised issues regarding the status of the land in question as well as the status of lands that provided future water access to the monument via Lake Powell. The process of improving the horse and foot trail to Rainbow Bridge was no longer the simple request of Myles Headrick, it was the watershed for negotiating the legal status of lands that would be extremely valuable after 1962 (the year Glen Canyon Dam was proposed to be completed).

In January 1963 water began to fill behind Glen Canyon Dam, forming what is now known as Lake Powell. At the same time that the Park Service was negotiating with the Nation over access to Rainbow Bridge, the management authority over the bridge changed hands. During these initial negotiations, Park Service personnel raised the question of who should manage Rainbow Bridge in the long term. For immediate work projects, such as the proposed trail improvements, Miller suggested that Navajo NM Superintendent Art White continue in his dual capacity as acting superintendent of Rainbow Bridge. Miller also suggested that in the future, after Glen Canyon NRA was developed, Glen Canyon staff be charged with administering and protecting Rainbow Bridge. [314] This suggestion was not lost on regional administrators. In June 1962, before Lake Powell began rising, the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Park Service entered into a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the management and development of the lake. The Bureau of Reclamation took responsibility for facilities and resource management related to the operation of Glen Canyon Dam. The reservoir (Lake Powell) was created for the purpose of fulfilling the intent of the Colorado River Storage Project; consequently, Reclamation retained control of the lake's water level and flow as a method of responding to power needs along the project's corridor. Upon completion of innundation, the reservoir would be known as Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Management of the reservoir was transferred to the Park Service for specific purposes, including public safety, recreational use management, wildlife management, and concessions and public revenues. Effectively the total management of the area was divided between Reclamation and the Park Service, with the mission of each entity guiding the scope and application of its respective management responsibilities. [315]

As part of the Memorandum of Understanding, protection and preservation of Rainbow Bridge NM became the responsibility of the superintendent of Glen Canyon NRA. NPS Director Hartzog approved the transfer of administrative control over Rainbow Bridge to the Superintendent of Glen Canyon NRA on August 5, 1964. The recreation area operated in a legislative void for nearly a decade. Park Service personnel were assigned to administrative and recreational management of Lake Powell soon after innundation began. But in 1972, after inundation of Glen Canyon was nearly complete, Congress approved the establishment of Glen Canyon NRA. [316] With the transfer of control, Rainbow Bridge would no longer be an undeveloped Park Service unit nor would it fail to register on the appropriations radar. It became one of the best managed jewels in the national park system's Southwest crown. More progress in comprehensive management needed to be made, however, as visitation reached 12,427 by the end of 1965. [317]

During the negotiations with NPS, the Navajo Nation questioned some of the basic assumptions held by the Park Service, specifically the legal status of lands in Bridge Canyon. The negotiations moved beyond the simple need for acreage dedicated to a horse and foot trail. The creation of Lake Powell meant the Nation needed to know what type of water access to the bridge would be available. The same month the diversion tunnels closed at Glen Canyon, Assistant Regional Director Leslie P. Arnberger met with the Nation's attorney, Walter Wolf, to discuss various issues related to land exchange. They discussed draft legislation to effect a land exchange between the Nation and the Park Service. What began in the late 1950s as the need for trail access turned into a debate over commercial development. The Nation changed its position, stating it was no longer amenable to giving up land around the monument. The meeting also included initial discussions of a Memorandum of Agreement regarding recreational use and development at Lake Powell. Wolf let the Park Service know that the Navajo Nation intended to develop commercial activities to the fullest extent possible along the southern shore of Lake Powell, which was part of the Navajo reservation. When Arnberger brought up the possibility of floating dock facilities in Bridge Canyon, to be located somewhere near the bridge, Wolf made it clear that the Nation reserved the right to approve any such plans. [318]

In September 1958, Congress approved legislation that transferred certain Navajo lands to the public domain (72 Stat.1686), known as Public Law 85-868. This law contained language that the Nation and the Park Service interpreted very differently. P.L. 85-868 stated, "the rights herein transferred shall not extend to the utilization of the lands hereinafter described under the heading parcel B for public recreational facilities without the approval of the Navajo Tribal Council." The Nation contended that all the lands in question around Rainbow Bridge were Parcel B lands. This interpretation specifically allowed for Tribal approval of all recreational facilities in Parcel B lands provided that those lands lay 3,720 feet above sea level. In 1963 topographic data suggested that the proposed site of Park Service floating facilities, just north of the confluence of Bridge Creek and Aztec Creek, indeed lay above 3,720 feet. But the floating facilities would not be anchored or moored to the shore. Did Tribal approval extend to the waters that covered the Parcel B land? This was the real point of contention. The Nation argued that the innundation of various canyons near Rainbow Bridge did not change the Parcel B status of those lands. The Park Service contended that all the lands in question were part of the system of legal public access to a national monument and once submerged became subject to the same laws that regulated all the navigable waters of the United States. The Nation reasserted its position that the 1958 Act superceded Park Service intentions and made any proposed recreational use of those lands subject to Tribal approval. [319]

This was not a situation the Park Service wanted to wade through. The history of Anglo/Indian relations over land and water rights in the American Southwest was not a history that favored the Park Service. The Nation was in an advantageous position, bargaining with access to Rainbow Bridge in exchange for boat and tour concessions along Lake Powell's southern shore. The Nation advanced a revised Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in late 1963. In the revised MOA the Nation tipped its hand in terms of what it wanted from the Park Service. The Navajo Nation retained the right to operate boat services subject to the standards of approval used by the Park Service in assessing all concessions contracts. The Nation offered unrestricted access to Rainbow Bridge via land or water and by extension released control of that access to Lake Powell. Also of importance was the Nation's willingness to transfer lands, in the form of an easement, necessary to the operation of the monument including approval to build and maintain structures or modifications designed to facilitate public access to the bridge. [320]

Despite the conciliatory tone of the Nation's revised MOA, the Park Service had much to consider in terms of permitting Navajo concessions along the south shore of Lake Powell. Contrary to the proposed MOA terms, between 1964 and 1966 the Navajo Nation grew more convinced that it would have to have permitted access to large sections of Lake Powell's southern shore for both recreational and retail development. At the same time, the Nation went through a series of leadership changes that consolidated the Nation's desire for commercial access to shore front land. These leadership changes hampered the Park Service's ability to negotiate for desired easements as the Tribal Council grew ever more wary of the Park Service's intentions. [321]

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Last Updated: 07-Feb-2003