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Grand Canyon to regulate ultra runners

Protecting scenic Grand Canyon trails has become a priority as runners continue to flock to the park. Courtesy of Doug Williams

In recent years, the popularity of running and hiking from rim to rim at the Grand Canyon has grown significantly. Running rim-to-rim -– and even rim-to-rim-to-rim -– has become a destination feat for ultra runners from across the U.S. and the world.

On some peak weekend days in the spring and fall, the National Park Service estimates as many as 800 hikers and runners are traveling the inner canyon.

Because issues and user conflicts have grown along with the increase in trail traffic, Grand Canyon National Park is instituting an interim system that will require some hikers and runners in groups to get special-use permits.

The interim permit system will go into effect Sept. 15, close to the expected release this fall of the park’s draft revise of its Backcountry Management Plan.

That draft, which may or may not include more permanent regulation of activity on the canyon’s trails, will be subject to public review and comment for about 90 days.

Special use permits will not be required during this interim period for individual runners or hikers, or small groups of friends or family. But permits will be required for organized groups, such as clubs and non-profit organizations. No groups of more than 30 will be allowed.

Permits will be required only for the inner canyon -- the area closest to the Colorado River -- which all rim-to-rim hikers and runners must cross.

The increase in runners and through-hikers has led to more litter and waste, vehicle congestion at trailheads, conflicts between trail users and crowding at restrooms. It also has overstressed the lone wastewater treatment facility in the canyon at Phantom Ranch.

“With rim-to-rim and extended day hiking and running increasing in popularity, we needed to find an interim solution that would give us the tool to educate hikers and runners on best practices until we have a longer-term solution in place,” park superintendent Dave Uberuaga said in a news release Wednesday.

More information about the new interim permit process can be found at nps.gov/grca/parkmgmt/sup.htm