Saturday, March 2, 2013

Sustainability, Service, and Sublime Beauty – a Spring Break in Grand Canyon National Park

On February 27th, 1919, the Grand Canyon became an official national park.  In 1903, President Teddy Roosevelt visited the site and reportedly noted:

The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world... Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.

With this in mind, a group of students and I head out tomorrow for an alternative spring break service learning trip to northern Arizona.  We will be helping National Park Service employees clear tree hazards and invasive species.  As we do this work, we will be learning a bit about the natural and cultural history of the region, contemporary challenges faced by this and other national parks, and the water scarcity issues in the southwest – something so different from what we know here in Pennsylvania. 

The Colorado River, which cuts through the Grand Canyon, is over 1,400-mile long, serves about 25 to 30 million people, and is used for hydroelectric power (the Hoover Dam) and to irrigate over 3.5 million acres of farmland. According to the Water Education Foundation “more water is exported from the Colorado River's 250,000 square-mile basin than from any other river basin in the world.” There are many challenges facing this river and the wildlife and people that depend on it. The river no longer flows all the way to Mexico as it once did – changing dramatically the ecosystem for migrating birds and impacting the availability of water in the southwest and in Mexico, leading to international disputes over water rights.  This is all important information to keep in mind as we look down on the mighty river in the upcoming days.

So while many head to sunny, warm destinations for break like Florida and Mexico, we will be in slightly different climes.  The typical daytime temperatures at the park are in the high 40’s and night time temps range from the teens to the mid-20’s!  (What was I thinking when I agreed to lead this trip?!)

Diane W. Husic
Chair, Department of Biological Sciences
Co-chair, Moravian College Sustainability Center for Excellence
March 2, 2013


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