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Multi-Ton Boulders Still Block Walnut Canyon Trail

Walnut Canyon National Monument

National Park News

Two separate rockfalls last December seriously damaged the park’s popular Island Trail, depositing a 49-ton boulder, several other large rocks, and 100 additional tons of debris on it and demolishing concrete stairs, handrails and a bench. [Click on the link below for the original report]. The trail was immediately closed to the public and park staff began evaluating how to go about cleaning it up, a process that seemed physically imposing but straightforward. It proved more complicated than first appeared, though, and it now seems likely that the trail will remain closed at least through September. This presents a serious impediment to visitors, who would normally use the trail as part of their primary park experience. The cleanup process has presented a number of daunting challenges:

  • For several weeks, heavy snow covered details of the damage and perpetuated the wet soil conditions that triggered the rockfalls. Crews were unable to work safely in the area, evaluate the situation, or inspect natural or archeological features below the rockfall until the ground dried.  
  • Movement of the largest boulder left an exposed cut slope and artifacts which must be protected from erosion. This and steep canyon terrain also prevent construction of a detour trail.
  • The truck-sized boulders are too big to move without large equipment that would be too large for the trail. Breaking them into smaller pieces requires blasting and/or extensive handwork by personnel in precarious positions.
  • Park staff are exploring two options for disposal of the smaller pieces – dispersal into the canyon (risking damage to natural and cultural resources below) or hand removal (via wheelbarrow through the visitor center, 150 vertical feet above).
  • The trail is an historic asset, constructed initially by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
  • The possible presence of Mexican spotted owl nests will  require staff to limit noise and other disruptions during the spring and summer months.
A plan for trail repair is being developed, with expert assistance from Grand Canyon National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Northern Arizona University, and work crews from the American Conservation Experience. Although the planning process has been time-consuming, it has proved effective. As work proceeds in the coming months, the park will encourage visitors to appreciate both the human effort and the natural forces at work in the canyon.


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