“Let this great wonder of nature remain as it is now. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you.” – Theodore Roosevelt
First declared a national monument in January 1908 by Teddy Roosevelt, the Grand Canyon waited another 11 years before receiving national park status in 1919. Industry had a heavy hand in politics, and preservation was not its concern. Among mineral and timber companies, mining interests found the possible classification of the Grand Canyon as a national park frightening. National park status would limit how much access the mining industry had to minerals within and around the canyon. For decades, these interests used their clout to block reclassification of the canyon. It was only through an act of Congress that the Grand Canyon was finally protected.
But national park status alone doesn’t equal complete protection. Uranium mines outside the park pose threats to the canyon long after closure. Radioactive dust, topsoil, and toxic leaks into water sources all pose health risks not only to tourists and Native American populations, but also to the canyon’s endangered condors and other wildlife.
When the Park Service finally acquired the previously privately-owned Orphan Mine in 1987, they were left to foot the bill for its cleanup. Grand Canyon National Park — funded by American taxpayers — has spent $15 million so far on the first phase of the cleanup, removing abandoned mine equipment and surface structures. The lower mine area has yet to be addressed.