Park Projects Move Forward on the North Rim
Despite the North Rim being closed seasonally during the winter, projects and planning initiatives continued, as many are in various phases of design development or construction.
Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions for a longer winter rang true for the North Rim this year, bringing feet upon feet of new snow via multiple weather cycles. The repetitious weather cycles also delivered a redundant messaging theme from the park project management staff: "construction will continue pending weather conditions.”
Despite the North Rim being closed seasonally during the winter, projects and planning initiatives continued, as many are in various phases of design development or construction. With the 2023 season opening, it leaves many wondering what some of the weather impacts had on the projects and what to expect during the season.
Grand Canyon Conservancy members and visitors will benefit in many ways during visits to the North Rim as early as this summer; however, many of the efforts will likely be experienced in upcoming years.
North Rim Entrance Road
The rehabilitation project will re-pave sections of the North Rim Entrance Road, also known as SR-67, from the entrance station to the lodge, enhance and improve visitor pullout locations, and provide critical rehabilitation to other administrative roads in the immediate area. The project is being led by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and their project staff has developed approximately 90% of construction documents.
FHWA staff will continue working on construction documents to include design information for a proposed entrance station rehabilitation project. The project is slated to commence in 2026 or 2027 to avoid impacts from the upcoming North Rim utilities projects.
With the recent project updates, it may be a few years before visitors experience the benefits of a newly paved road to the North Rim. In the meantime, another proposed project is the entrance station.
North Rim Entrance Station
Built in 1928, the North Rim Entrance Station is a classic gateway to Grand Canyon National Park and an excellent example of the rustic park architecture developed early in NPS history.
Rehabilitation for the entrance station is broken down into two projects. The first is the design phase for the project, and the second is the proposed construction phase. The rehabilitation addresses improvements needed at the entrance station to correct code deficiencies and improve safety for staff.
The design brings the building and fee collection operation to modern standards while restoring the historic building and adding another fee collection booth, break room, and restrooms for park staff. A schematic design was completed in August 2020, recognizing the importance of maintaining the integrity of the building while making it serviceable by today’s standards. The design for the project is projected to finish by late summer. However, funding has not yet been identified for this project. Once the design is complete, the project will be put on hold until funding can be secured.
One of the hidden benefits for all visitors is critical infrastructure to support our creature comforts, and there are multiple projects contributing to the overall improvement and rehabilitation of the North Rim Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).
North Rim WWTP Upgrades
The North Rim WWTP was constructed in 1973 and had modifications and improvements in 1980. It supports all the visitor, resident staff housing, lodging, and support services for the North Rim of Grand Canyon. Many of the components, like the valves and pumps, have exceeded their useful life. The short-term goal is to repair wastewater services in support of visitor and employee health and safety to support the North Rim.
The design phase is completed for the upgrade project, which includes installing a roof structure to cover the treatment basins, upgrading the control system, and modifying and upgrading the headworks. Construction was expected to begin on March 1, 2023, but extreme weather conditions prevented the crew from mobilizing. Park project management staff are determining how to complete the construction without significantly impacting regular operations during the summer season.
North Rim Lift Stations and Drying Beds
The project is replacing five pumps and lift stations that are not operating correctly or that need to be replaced at the North Rim WWTP. The WWTP is not designed to be gravity fed, so it utilizes lift stations to pump sewage uphill from the developed areas at lower elevations. The project includes replacing the sand in the drying beds and installing new aluminum handrails to replace chain-linked handrails around the WWTP platforms.
Construction for the project began in June 2022, and by late October, the construction crew replaced four lift stations, completed some finishing work at the drying beds, and replaced old valves. The construction crew departed by the end of the 2022 operating season and took two pumps to Phoenix to be rebuilt. By the time you read this, the rebuilt pumps should be installed, as well as the new handrails.
Planning initiatives for the North Rim continued throughout the winter without delays to prepare for the 2023 season. The park planning branch staff are coordinating with North Rim staff to develop a simple data collection plan that should be implemented by the time you read this. The data collection will include using trail counters to help gather data for visitor flow and use patterns at the North Rim that will help inform future planning efforts.
While the data collection efforts will have a subtle presence, the addition of interns may be more visible at the North Rim this summer. Planning branch staff applied for a Business Management Internship Program, and Grand Canyon National Park was one of nine submissions selected to receive business management interns this summer. The National Parks Business Plan Internship is designed to promote the long-term health of national parks by developing improved financial planning and analytical management tools. The interns will develop a robust economic assessment focused on proposed expanded season services and operations at the North Rim. This assessment will be critical to informing future management decisions and planning efforts for the North Rim.
As the 2023 season progresses, the WWTP will begin nearing completion, and more projects and planning initiatives will start to develop for the 2024 operating season.
Author: Lily Daniels