Grand Canyon plans for new parking lot

FLAGSTAFF (AP) - The National Park Service wants visitors to the Grand Canyon to be able to walk, ride horses or bicycle the last few miles to the massive gorge for a richer experience.

To do that, the agency plans to put a 100-vehicle parking lot on the Kaibab National Forest near Tusayan, just far enough from the canyon to allow for a mini adventure, instead of simply parking at the rim and sightseeing.

The effort is also meant to reduce summer parking problems for the busy South Rim of the canyon, which can see as many as 10,000 cars in a single day.

The new parking area would be located on the west side of State Route 63, and would have restrooms, signs, bike racks and dirt and paved trails headed to the South Rim.

The National Park Service is seeking grants to pay for the estimated $2 million cost of the project.

Trails are expected to be constructed by the end of 2011. The construction date for the parking lot is unknown, said canyon spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge.

Those biking into the canyon will pay an individual rate of $12.

Those taking a shuttle will pay the standard entry fee of $25 per group or family, without a national parks pass.

The Park Service has also been running a shuttle from Tusayan to the South Rim in recent years to alleviate traffic after a plan to deliver most tourists to the Grand Canyon by mass transit, such as light rail, failed due to a lack of funding.

Southwest author Ed Abbey once proposed that cars be off-limits at the Grand Canyon and in other major Southwest national parks.

Alicyn Gitlin, of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, said the group would favorably view any projects that would give canyon visitors more peace and quiet while at the park.

"It's definitely the type of thing that we would support," she said.