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Grand Canyon Trims Programs To Pay Down Debt, But Keeps Jobs

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Grand Canyon Trims Programs To Pay Down Debt, But Keeps Jobs

Grand Canyon Trims Programs To Pay Down Debt, But Keeps Jobs

The Grand Canyon National Park is reducing and postponing several programs at the park in order to pay off a huge debt. All park staff will be affected in one form or another by these cutbacks.

To understand where the debt comes from we have to back up. Xanterra has maintained several restaurants and hotels at the park for more than a century. Over that time they spent millions of dollars on repairs.

The contract to operate those concessions is now open for bid. But under federal law the bidder has to pay down that repair debt — $157 million. The Grand Canyon is paying a big chunk of it to make the contract more appealing.

To do that Superintendent Dave Uberuaga said they’re borrowing $75 million from other parks. And coming up with another $25 million on their own.

Uberuaga said the park is postponing several programs including studying remote springs, restoring native fish and creating an archaeological visitor program.

But no one is losing their job — at least not yet. Uberuaga went to his boss in Washington and asked for help. He thought he’d have to lay off about 160 temporary employees. But the National Park Service gave them $4 million to help keep them on at least for another year.

"We have to figure out, starting pretty shortly, what does next spring look like? And then at the end of the fiscal year we have to figure out what it will look like in 2016 with the anticipation that there won’t be any help at all," he said.

Uberuaga said he’s not sure when they will get the funds to lift the hiring freeze and reboot these programs.

But the winning concessioner will pay the park a higher franchise fee — 14 percent — so Grand Canyon can pay back the other parks and eventually resuscitate the canyon programs.

The park will announce a winning bid in December.

Laurel Morales was a Fronteras Desk reporter in Flagstaff from 2011 to 2020.