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

As relations with the Navajo Nation warmed throughout the 1980s, the Park Service began considering a large-scale management plan for the monument. Visitation as a result of improved monument access via the Lake Powell corridor increased exponentially in the 1980s. In 1979 the Park Service tallied 97,066 monument visitors. By 1985 that number increased to 177,971 visitors. The Park Service knew that a General Management Plan (GMP) was the next logical step in the administrative and development planning of the monument. The GMP was in regular use at other units of the national park system. It was a relatively standardized document that made use of local resources and perspectives in pursuit of a cogent management plan. In the case of Rainbow Bridge, special concern had to paid to the Native American interests in the region as well as the special visitation problems presented by the limited geographic access vis-a-vis Bridge Canyon. Developing a modern general management plan (GMP) for Rainbow Bridge meant including cultural, natural, and human resources that were unused previously. One of the most significant considerations for Park Service personnel was including the viewpoints of local Navajos and Paiutes in the GMP's development. Interviews with Tribal members began in 1988. At the same time, interviews were undertaken by Pauline Wilson, American Indian Liaison for Glen Canyon NRA, to determine the scope of Navajo religious affinity at Rainbow Bridge. In 1989 the Park Service solicited public opinion at large, generating a questionnaire for visitors to the bridge and establishing a comment register where people could relate their views on improving and managing the monument. In 1989 visitation to the monument reached 238,307. The Park Service knew that it could not keep pace with growing visitor needs and demands without a comprehensive management strategy. [338]

In 1990, Glen Canyon NRA personnel, under the direction of Pauline Wilson, Environmental Specialist Jim Holland, and Public Affairs Officer Karen Whitney, continued to conduct meetings at Navajo chapter houses to gauge Navajo opinion of the proposed GMP. Holland related at each of the meetings that the Park Service had a number of specific goals attached to the GMP: preserving Rainbow Bridge for future generations; identifying and protecting the cultural significance of the bridge to Navajo and other cultures; and maintaining a productive relationship with the Navajo Nation. It was obvious that the cultural imperatives born of the legislative and judicial events of the 1970s and 1980s were not lost on Park Service personnel at Rainbow Bridge. Despite the previous conflicts between the Park Service and the Navajo Nation, the Park Service was committed to improving that relationship via a culturally sensitive GMP for the bridge. By September 1990 the Park Service had created a Draft GMP that could be reviewed by the public. That review process began in earnest among the Navajo Nation in October 1990. [339]

The initial concerns for the GMP revolved around managing the growing population of visitors to the bridge. Visitation had increased substantially every year since the availability of water access via Lake Powell. The effects of that increased visitation were obvious: graffiti, refuse, human waste, and off-trail damage were all evident. Phase I and Phase II initiatives in the draft GMP limited the number of people at one time (PAOT) at the bridge to about four hundred. The Park Service also proposed that NPS interpreters be on each tour boat headed to the bridge to provide information regarding the sensitivity of the bridge's ecosystem and the need to protect both natural and cultural resources. The draft GMP also advocated a seasonal contact station in Forbidding Canyon to collect entrance fees and regulate traffic to the bridge, interpreters at the bridge, and other contact stations. The plan's intent was to protect the area's diverse resources through increased contact with visitors. While no regulation prohibiting physical access to the bridge was proposed, the hope was that visitors would voluntarily comply with protective goals if a proper level of information was made available. The Park Service, in subsequent drafts of the GMP, never advocated statutory enforcement of provisions to prevent visitors from approaching the bridge. [340]

The idea of limiting numeric access to sensitive areas was not new in the Park Service or within the national park system. Zion National Park in Utah had been limiting the number of hikers in The Narrows section of the park to 70 people per day since approximately 1988. [341] The reasons at Zion were echoed at Rainbow Bridge—limitations were necessary for both public safety and resource protection. Regardless of the cultural implications to a given group, the Park Service had always made preservation one of its top priorities in sensitive areas. The draft GMP also advocated a permit and fee scenario for bridge visitors, much like other parks and monuments had in place for their more delicate zones. Needless to say, the draft GMP ignited a controversy. Navajos wanted unfettered and non-permitted access based on their long-held religious beliefs about the bridge. The public comments were divided. Some respondents favored no controls of any kind, while some favored even stricter controls on access to the bridge. A few wondered why the Park Service was involved in any way at Rainbow Bridge. The Park Service, via Pauline Wilson, solicited local Navajo input on the GMP through 1992. [342]

In 1993, after soliciting extensive public opinion, the Park Service produced a final draft of the General Management Plan. The final GMP included plans covering development concepts and resource management, an interpretive prospectus, and an environmental assessment. It was the most comprehensive look at managing Rainbow Bridge NM ever produced by the Park Service. It was an extremely timely document. With most of the litigation concerning the bridge behind it, the Park Service could focus on tangible management problems such as graffiti, boat traffic in Bridge Canyon, waste disposal, and foot traffic at and under the bridge. Many of these concerns reached their apex by 1993, as visitation to the Bridge exceeded 250,000 the prior year. The GMP zeroed in on the most pressing concerns at the monument: carrying capacity, resource management (cultural and natural), and use definition. [343]

One of the more controversial elements of the GMP was its determinations on carrying capacity. There really had not been any limits to visitation before the 1990s. While certain references in various Park Service memoranda indicate that the Park Service hoped visitation and impacts could be limited, little administrative action was taken prior to formulating a GMP. Based on a survey of the resources at Bridge Canyon and the canyon dock facility, the GMP determined the maximum PAOT should not exceed three hundred and ninety. The plan also called for a fee for access to the monument. The carrying capacity was to be evenly divided between private boats and tour boats. The contact station also provided for concerns about human waste, trash, and prevention of unacceptable activity at the bridge via Park Service enforcement. One of the most revolutionary ideas in the GMP, designed to mitigate individual impact on the monument, involved transferring private individuals from their boats to Park Service boats to ferry those individuals to the bridge. No boat traffic would be allowed past the contact station unless there was room at the monument. Using Park Service-operated transportation would have been unique at Rainbow Bridge but is now employed in numerous units of the national park system including Zion and Yosemite. Ultimately the desire of the Park Service to regulate access to Bridge Canyon took the form of employing concessionaire tour boats and limits on their maximum passenger allowances. But the GMP did represent the Park Service's desire for hands-on management at Rainbow Bridge. [344] Employing the carrying capacity formula proposed by the GMP, Rainbow Bridge could be seen by more people with less trouble and more control.

In terms of handling cultural resource issues, the GMP was not the only tool in use in the early 1990s. In addition to soliciting public and Native American opinion of the GMP, the Park Service's Resource Management Division at Glen Canyon entered into a cooperative agreement with Northern Arizona University (NAU) to study the ethnography of the Rainbow Bridge region. In 1991, Dr. Robert T. Trotter, II was assigned as principal investigator for the project with Neita V. Carr acting as the primary researcher and writer. The study was designed to provide a general overview of contemporary Native Americans who were associated with Glen Canyon and Rainbow Bridge and to define the cultural and natural resources under Park Service management that those tribes valued and used. Carr and Trotter generated a basic summary of the use patterns and affiliations of both Hopi and Navajos at Rainbow Bridge. That information is presented in greater detail in Chapters 2 and 5 of this administrative history.

What the ethnographic overview and assessment did confirm was the desire of the tribes to be more directly involved in the decision-making process at Rainbow Bridge. Every tribe that expressed cultural and historical affiliation with the bridge and its environs also indicated that their interests should be part of the criteria that underpinned management at the bridge. The ethnographic overview was a big step toward realizing comprehensive management at the monument. That goal was broadly defined in the Cultural Resources Management Technical Supplement, published by the Park Service, in August 1985. The summary of Carr and Trotter's report was that the Park Service needed to continue its efforts at ethnographic study and expand them to include other Native American groups, such as the San Juan Southern Paiute and Hopi Tribe. The report made general recommendations toward field studies, resource analysis, and the creation of a large-scale ethnographic data base that would be available to Park Service personnel for help in decisions that might affect affiliated tribes. Carr and Trotter observed, "it is clear from the literature search and our cultural consultation that multiple field studies are both desirable and necessary to create [an] appropriate data base and to provide a stable condition for relations with [Glen Canyon] and [Rainbow Bridge] associated peoples." In various forms, these suggestions were followed by the Park Service. The ethnographic overview, completed in March 1992, was definitely an influence on the final draft of General Management Plan, the creation of a Native American Consultation Committee, and eventually the Comprehensive Interpretive Plan. [345]

The public comment period for the GMP continued through 1992, with revised drafts being made available to Navajo, Hopi, and Paiute Tribal representatives. Pauline Wilson continued to take drafts to the Navajo and Paiute chapter houses for public comment and the results of the NAU ethnographic study were used to modify the parameters of interpretation toward maximum sensitivity to all affiliated Native Americans. The Park Service generated the final draft of the GMP in June 1993. It reflected much of the public comment that was gathered by the Park Service during the previous three years. In terms of the issue of carrying capacity, the final plan was radically different from its various drafts. It called for a maximum of 200 PAOT, with 150 allotted to tour boats and the remaining 50 to private boats. The docks would be reduced in length to accommodate the modified carrying capacity and a ranger would staff the exit point on the docks to ensure compliance with the carrying capacity limits. While this did not sit well with ARAMARK, the Lake Powell concessioner, the plan's focus was minimizing impact rather than maximizing revenue. Because of increased visitation over the years, the environs of Rainbow Bridge suffered a severe toll; the Park Service was dedicated to restoring the monument as much as was feasible. [346]

Protection of natural resources and processes in the monument was also a focus of the final GMP. Tamarisk, an exotic and non-native tree species, had been spreading rapidly near the bridge. It was long considered a threat to surrounding vegetation and to developing riparian communities. The GMP authorized the removal of tamarisk from the viewing area and near the bridge. Off-trail travel was forbidden in the new management strategy. The amount of cryptogamic soil damage was hard to measure, but it was extensive. The GMP also called for revegetation of impacted plant species and discouraging visitation beyond the assigned viewing area. Cultural resources also formed the object of intense management in the final GMP. Restricting certain access to the bridge in the form of petroglyph and archeological site protection was to be accomplished through increased Park Service presence and mandated trail boundaries. While nothing in the GMP provided for restricting access to the bridge (there were no mandates to stop visitors from approaching or walking under the bridge), the plan did seek to "discourage" visitor use below the bridge. The effects of these decisions would be monitored through visitor-use surveys and Park Service/visitor contact. It should be made clear, however, that the GMP never advocated that visitors be prevented in any way from approaching or going under the bridge. [347]

The GMP also contained a fifteen-page interpretive plan. Based on research done by NAU and the collective response from Anglo and Native American groups over the significance of the bridge, the Park Service developed an interpretive framework to facilitate and enhance the visitor experience at the bridge. The GMP made its purpose plain, stating, "the significance of Rainbow Bridge lies not only in its geological character, but in its power to move and inspire the human soul. For Navajo, Hopi, and other native peoples it is part of who they are and what they consider sacred and meaningful in this life." [348] The GMP acknowledged that the bridge occupies esoteric importance to other worldviews. In order to be fair to those peoples with a worldview that was not Anglo, the GMP advocated administering the monument in such a way that both worldviews were represented. In essence, the GMP took a non-Anglocentric vector and suggested that the Anglo interpretation of the history of the bridge was not the only acceptable interpretation but rather one of many. It is important to remember that this portion of the GMP was generated in a spirit of cooperation and diversity and not as a result of harassment or litigation. When all was said and done the Park Service recognized its responsibility to incorporate alternative worldviews into the Rainbow Bridge interpretive experience.

The interpretive goals for the monument were categorized around multiple resources. The GMP recognized the importance of prehistoric, historic, ethnographic, and natural resources. Since the monument barely measured 160 acres and visitation was averaging over 250,000 people per annum, the Park Service realized it had to act aggressively to preserve the resources at Rainbow Bridge. Native American groups were to be utilized in a consultation capacity regarding information that should be passed on to visitors (in the form of Native American historical beliefs about the bridge) and regarding the appropriate level of contact between visitors and the bridge itself. The Park Service did not advocate that its personnel prevent visitors from approaching the bridge; rather, rangers and interpreters sought visitors' voluntary deference to Native American requests that the bridge remain free from direct human contact. In July 2000, Stephanie Dubois, Chief of Interpretation for Glen Canyon NRA, stated in an interview that no visitor had ever been cited for approaching the bridge on designated trails or for walking beneath the bridge. Chief Dubois also indicated that there was no Service policy to prevent or dissuade any visitor from approaching the bridge once the visitor has made the decision to leave the congregating area. Visitors are only cited if they violate the published restrictions on activities related to swimming, fishing, or entering closed or revegetating areas. [349] The interpretive outline of the GMP recognized the potential for conflict with Anglo belief systems, stating that there would be "other concerns that will surface, which affect interpretation at the monument. To be sensitive to the values and experiences of other people, to bridge the cultural gap, will be the challenge to interpretive managers." [350] Indeed, this is still the goal of managers in the 21st century.

The GMP settled on five major interpretive themes: that geological processes formed Rainbow Bridge; that Rainbow Bridge is part of the greater Colorado Plateau ecosystem; that people interacted with the bridge in prehistoric times; that people interacted with the bridge in historic times; and, that people continue to impact the monument. The Park Service made each of these themes a part of the interpretive goal for each Park Service interpreter working in and around the monument. The GMP also recommended that Park Service interpreters be part of each ARAMARK boat tour entering the monument, ensuring a maximum level of Park Service/visitor contact. [351] The GMP also called for interpreters to be stationed on a rotating basis at the monument to greet visitors and help enhance the Rainbow Bridge experience. No single cultural viewpoint was ever emphasized over the other defined thematic goals; rather, the cultural significance of the bridge to both Anglos and Native Americans was added to the larger interpretive matrix. Signs, exhibits, Park Service interpreters, revised access restrictions based on environmental concerns, and updated brochures all formed the core of making the interpretive experience both comprehensive and widespread. [352]

The signage that was part of the GMP wayside exhibit plan was to become one of the more contentious issues at Rainbow Bridge in 1990s. Signs seem to have taken on a peculiar significance to Americans, especially those signs that concerned religion or spirituality. The GMP allowed for one sign to be placed near the congregating area, which tried to inform the public that Rainbow Bridge was considered sacred to Navajos and other Native Americans. The wording of the sign was a major concern to the Park Service. But the GMP-authorized sign was not the first to define Rainbow Bridge's place in Native American spirituality. Located in the interpretation archives at Glen Canyon NRA headquarters is a photograph of a sign that was in place at Rainbow Bridge in the late 1980s. The sign read:

There are places mentioned in Navajo legends which are said to be sacred. Rainbow Bridge is one thought to possess supernatural powers.

According to one Navajo legend, the Diné (Navajo People) once believed that harm would befall anyone who walked beneath Rainbow Bridge without first chanting a prayer of protection. Over the years the prayer was forgotten and the Diné would no longer enter the area.

Today you are about to approach this special place. Do so with reverence, for it is said: "Those who pause to rest within the shadow of the bridge will leave their troubles behind."

Investigation by Park Service personnel at the Harpers Ferry Center in West Virginia produced no clues as to the sign's origin. The Wayside Exhibits division at Harpers Ferry Center only had record of two signs constructed for Rainbow Bridge NM. Those signs dealt with the "discovery" of the bridge and the geologic formation of the bridge. Presumably this sign was placed at the bridge on the heels of the 1980 Badoni decision and the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978. The signs may also have been placed after the Department of the Interior released the Native American Relationships Policy in February 1982. [353] Regardless, the mood of both the Park Service and public between 1980 and 1993 was one of conciliation. The reaction of the public and the Park Service to renewed Native American concerns over appropriate use and interpretation of Rainbow Bridge after 1995 is the subject of Chapter 8.

The GMP represented the culmination of the Park Service's efforts toward effective management of the monument. After lengthy solicitation of numerous opinions and viewpoints, the Park Service produced a plan that would manage the monument in terms of resources rather than profits. The Park Service's decision to limit ARAMARK's tour boat access to 150 PAOT, instead of 150 people per boat as ARAMARK wanted, was a testament to the Park Service's ability to manage beyond the traditional scope of visitor demands. Ensuring the longevity of Rainbow Bridge and its environs for as many generations of visitors as possible was the mission of the new GMP and the Park Service after 1993. Undoubtedly the Park Service would not escape criticism. Anglo proponents for unrestricted and secular access to Rainbow Bridge would criticize the Park Service for its cultural sensitivity. Certain Native Americans favored days dedicated to segregated Indian access to the bridge and so would criticize the Park Service and the GMP for not going far enough. Regardless, the period between 1955 and 1993 was one of major growth for the Park Service at Rainbow Bridge. The staff had managed the monument through national swings in political mood, through the Colorado River Storage Project and the creation of Lake Powell, and took ever more aggressive management action as visitation increased from 1,081 in 1955 to 256,158 in 1992. Keeping pace with these changes was not an easy task. The Park Service approach to managing Rainbow Bridge NM, as described in Chapter 8, was one of flexibility and willingness coupled with a firm commitment to managing the monument in terms of resource protection versus income maximization.

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Last Updated: 07-Feb-2003