This year the U.S. National Park Service turns 100!

Grand Canyon river guide and R&O leader, Geoff Gourley, explores the Grand Canyon National Park and the surprising role commercial river running has played in finding the balance between protecting this sacred area and making it accessible to visitors.

The Grand Canyon National Park

A Really Good Idea Turns 100 Years Old

In an era when it seemed there was no limit to expansion, the concept of establishing National Parks as preservation areas was an idea way ahead of its time. The National Park system is a unique and purely American innovation. Where older European parks have been refined and manicured by the hand of man, U.S. Parks have been left wild for the most part. However, managing these invaluable resources has not been without its challenges over the last century.

Grand Canyon National Park is the adored icon of the Park Service. There is a passion about Grand Canyon National Park that is unmatched. More than any other park, it has been at the forefront of quarrelsome issues on its “best use”. There are divided views on every aspect of the park: More or less development to accommodate or protect; wilderness or non-wilderness designation; manage it for the people or for resource. The ambition should be to balance the wilderness experience and resource protection while maintaining access.

Enhancing the depth of the experience for the visitor while protecting the resource has always been the objective of river runners who have devoted their lives to sharing this national gem. During the last half century, the commercial river companies in Grand Canyon National Park have been at the forefront of educating fellow explorers, advancing the state of the art of equipment, and developing new innovations in low impact camping. These ideas have spread far and wide over the decades to be built-in to practices and regulations on many other rivers throughout the world.

From a 1999 Letter to the Editor in High Country News by Tom Robinson and Christa Sadler:

 “It is largely due to the efforts of the outfitters and guides that the river corridor is so remarkably clean, and the beaches trash-free. The efforts of the commercial guides were a major factor in helping pass the Grand Canyon Protection Act in 1992. Several of the outfitters have for the past several years contributed equipment, food and guides to the Park Service Resource Management trips to help revegetate, rebuild trails and shore up camping areas.

 Commercial trips have a huge emphasis on education about the canyon’s geology, archaeology, history and ecology, and since commercial passengers are not worrying about when or if they eat, how to make it through a particular rapid or where camp is, they are free to go far “deeper” than one might think. The enthusiasm and knowledge of the guides is passed on to clients in ways that change their lives, and should never be considered less important because it was paid for commercially.”

The Canyon will always speak for itself, but it doesn’t hurt when there are passionate advocates of this place along to share its not-so-obvious secrets with you. The depth of this kind of expedition is not just a mere recreational experience, but an indefinably transcendent one. Grand Canyon is not just a place to play in, it is a place for inspiration. There is no deeper access to the Canyon than a river trip. We look forward to the next 100 years of responsible stewardship so that others may experience this trip of a lifetime.

“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt we must leave them more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”


– President Lyndon Johnson