Over at the TrailRunner Magazine website, Alex Kurt has written a short piece entitled “Are the R2R2R’s Days Numbered?” R2R2R is trail runners’ shorthand for a Rim to Rim to Rim crossing of the Grand Canyon; you can see the “basics” on that topic from Ultrarunning Magazine here.
Crossing from the Canyon’s south rim to its north rim—or for more ambitious types, there and back again—is a challenge that draws many of the roughly 15,000 people who visit the Canyon’s corridor (where the rim-to-rim route runs) each year, and that number is growing. The mystique of recent speed records for the rim-to-rim-to-rim routes, as well as the challenge and beauty of the low desert, has ensured an increasing number of that swelling visitor log is filled with runners.
But according to reports, the number of visitors—including runners—along the corridor route could soon be restricted.
Rachel Bennett, an Environmental Protection Specialist at Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP), says concerns of overuse have spurred the potential changes.
You might be inclined to think that having 800 visitors in backcountry that totals more than 1.1 million acres would not present a tremendous environmental concern–at least not one sufficient to trigger a review of the park’s Backcountry Management Plan. The key, however, likely lies in the fact that the popularity of R2R2R leads to many of those visitors being in the same general areas at the same general times. If runners take the advice of publications like Ultrarunning Magazine then a lot of them are going to show up at around the same time of year, line up at the same trails, start their treks at the same times, and be on the trails for close to the same amounts of total time.
This is a generalization, of course, but in my limited experience the trail running community is very environmentally conscious. They want the trails they run to be there for themselves years from now and the generations of future trail runners. In fact, running clubs across the country are often the ones who take responsibility to maintain the trails that they run. With that in mind, it seems to me that it is either other visitors (and not trail runners) who are responsible for the increased litter or it is a very small subset of runners who do not share their fellow runner’s concern for the trails that they use.
According to Kurt’s piece Bennett said that “With this planning process, there’s a fear that we’re limiting access, but we want to understand what’s going on before we would place any limits on anybody.” Hopefully, officials actually do what Bennett suggests and get enough helpful public comments to allow them to see that Rim to Rim to Rim activities can continue without doing damage to the park. As I’ve written about in the past, these plans are not always based on informed decisions and once made they can be very difficult to challenge in court and even harder to actually get changed.