Happy 100th Birthday, Grand Canyon! Here's How You Can Protect It For Another Century

Image by Rebecca Rockwood / Stocksy

Cue the birthday song! 2019 marks 100 years since the Grand Canyon was named a national park.

Following its designation on February 26, 1919, by President Woodrow Wilson, the park attracted around 45,000 visitors annually. Today, over 6 million people every year flock to the otherworldly rock formations etched by the Colorado River.

The Grand Canyon's history runs as deep as its gorges: The park was formed millions of years ago, with some of its oldest rocks dating back 2 billion years. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the park spreads over 1.2 million acres, making it larger than the state of Rhode Island. It's the only canyon on the planet that's visible from space.

When speaking of the importance of protecting this vast natural wonder for future generations, President Theodore Roosevelt said, "In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it."

Fast-forward to today, and the national park—like many across the U.S.—is threatened by climate change and human influence. Pete McBride, a photographer who recently walked the entire length of the park to document its beauty, was troubled to find that the Colorado River, which flooded the Gulf of California for millions of years, now runs dry in some areas. Climate change will likely continue to decrease the river's flow by 5 to 20 percent in the next 40 years.

"I spent two weeks walking the most parched, barren earth you can imagine," McBride tells Smithsonian. "It's sad to see the mighty Colorado River come to a dribble and end some 50 miles north of the sea."

How you can help the Grand Canyon stay grand.

As the park's landscape changes, the Grand Canyon Association, its nonprofit partner, has its work cut out. Today, consider as a little birthday gift to the park making a donation to the association, which helps restore park trails, rejuvenate fragile habitat, and protect endangered species. By buying from outdoor adventure brand Keep Nature Wild's 1919 Collection, which commemorates the park's centennial with vintage-inspired apparel, you'll also be supporting wildlife cleanups around the country.

If you're lucky enough to have a trip coming up to the Grand Canyon, or any other national park or protected wildlife area, be sure to follow Leave No Trace Principles to minimize your footprint. That means sticking to designated trails, picking up your trash, and being respectful of wildlife and other visitors. There's a movement brewing to update these rules with a note on using technology responsibly during outdoor excursions. In the age of Geotagging, some previously remote places are gaining curious onlookers faster than they can keep up with, so consider keeping the location of your next sweeping vista a secret.

The Grand Canyon also offers guided tours with professional geologists, biologists, archaeologists, historians, artists, and National Park Service reps to take visitors around the land responsibly, sharing some insider secrets along the way.

Let's all do our part to make sure this beauty stays pristine for another hundred.

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