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A canyon, a cause – protecting an American icon


I’m spoiled. I know this. When people find out about my treasure, they become a tad bit jealous. “That must be awesome!” they say. “You are so lucky” they sigh. I can only sit back and say, “I know, I know…I take advantage of it as much as I can.”


Nick Irvine

When I have these conversations with customers at my brewery, we both have images fading in and out of our minds. Images of deep, dark cuts in the Earth. Visions of endangered species taking flight in the air above. Scenes of rushing waters cascading over people who should be mortified but instead have a smile that you couldn’t knock off with a sledgehammer.

As an owner and yeast sensei at Dark Sky Brewing Co., I have the immense pleasure of witnessing the ceaseless afterglow of these smiles. Voyagers sit across from one another at the Juniper slab bar and talk about our hallowed treasure here in the American Southwest: The Grand Canyon.

Some of the customers are on their way back from an awe-inspiring look into the ancient past of our planet, while others have returned, sans shower, from a week upon the Colorado River. Some young adventure-lovers are feverously jotting down notes as I tell them the absolute must-do trails, hikes, and viewpoints. Sometimes I’ll lean in and say, “You wanna go somewhere NO ONE will be?” with a slightly upturned smile.

Somebody once said that if Grand Canyon is the keystone of all our National Parks, Flagstaff is its capital city. This Canyon brings so much to the business owners of Flagstaff. I get customers from all over the world stepping up to the counter to grab their post-trail celebration beer or a jitter-soothing, pre-river expedition drink. The city’s small businesses all thrive on having the most amazing story told in rock, just an hour up the road.

Sadly, all that the Grand Canyon provides is currently being threatened by the expansion of uranium mining near the Canyon. The toxic legacy left behind by past mines remains to this day and provides a foreboding picture of a grim future. Without immediate action, we stand to lose something so vital to both the region and our nation. We will lose those dollars that help our employees pay their bills. We will lose the sector of our economy that allows distant money to make its way here and stay here. We as a country will also lose the National Park that stands as the foundation on which many other smaller National Parks depend on.

But, potentially worse than that, we will lose the ability to thoroughly enjoy both a national and global treasure. Should we allow spring and river waters to be contaminated by mining runoff, we will lose a river culture that is so well-known, so legendary, that people are willing to save their earnings for a decade to simply dip a toe into that mighty Colorado River. We will lose a wonder and awe that is achieved by staring into the layers of our planet’s ancestry of rock. Most importantly to me, northern Arizona, and the surrounding tribal lands, we will lose the ability to sustain a part of our culture, our way of life, that makes this town and land so enchanting and unique to all who experience this treasure that I hold so dear.

I could think of no greater cause – to me personally, to the region, and to the country as a whole. With the sun rapidly setting on the Obama administration, establishing the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument is a crucial step to ensuring its long-term preservation.

Despite some recent reports to the contrary, this is a fight that can still be won. I urge you to not let cynicism take root. Until the administration makes an official statement as to what action they will or will not take, our efforts are not in vain. Supporters of this monument’s designation must press on and loudly express our passion for its protection. We owe it to ourselves and to all the Canyon selflessly provides. Everyone who has experienced the Grand Canyon knows of its power to profoundly change a person, and if we allow IT to be permanently changed by the further degradation that expanded mining would inevitably bring, we simply don’t deserve the endless fruits it bears.

Nick Irvine is owner and brewer at Dark Sky Brewing Co.


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

One comment

  1. With the improved mining regulations, there will not be ANY observable changes to the Grand Canyon from mining in the next 50+ years. I see fear mongering for what it is, and this is a good example of it. Radiation levels in the Grand Canyon are always elevated due to exposed uranium deposits and the springs often have natural uranium exposure prior to entering the canyon. This has nothing to do with mining anything. It is Natural.

    Creating even more “protection” will be overkill, to say the least. The BLM already protects most of the proposed area and the US Forest Service a significant amount. All that additional designation would do is expand these bureaucracies and limit the management alternatives available to them. It will reduce grazing, thinning, hunting, fuel-wood gathering, cone collecting, fire protection and other resource management and recreational family activities in this major part of northern Arizona. It will prevent more non-existent mining in Houserock Valley but put local ranchers out of business.

    Any new Monument designation will only hurt the resources, reduce human access and stress underfunded agencies tasked to manage it. It is just one more link in the proposed wilderness chain that will link Mexico with Canada across the western US. We can’t afford to allow this Federal land-grab without a legitimate purpose to continue. Nearly all of it is currently public land and is strictly managed to modern standards to prevent problems that were present a long time ago in the 1950s and 1960s.

    There are unfunded management plans in place on these lands now. That doesn’t equate to uncontrolled activities. It does mean that very few new activities are now being allowed. Don’t waste our time, money and resources when there is no real threat or actual benefit. Forget tying up more of our beloved canyons, deserts and plateaus with additional layers of meaningless regulations.

    Give up on the “Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument”! The Grand Canyon, the local businesses and all of us will be fine without it.

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