Few places in the United States, or the world, are as iconic as the Grand Canyon. Carved through multiple layers of rock by the Colorado River in Arizona, the area is supposed to be protected from those who would spoil its natural beauty. President Theodore Roosevelt first visited the Grand Canyon in 1903 and was so impressed that he designated it a U.S. National Monument on Jan. 11, 1908. It took another 11 years for it to be reclassified as a national park, mostly because of opposition from those who held land and mining claims in the area, but on Feb. 26, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson created what became the country's 17th national park.

Surrounded by clouds at the Grand Canyon

Photo: Erin Whittaker/U.S. National Park Service [CC by 2.0]/Wikimedia

Fast-forward a century to the present day, and the Grand Canyon is sadly still not truly safe. Someone, somewhere has decided that what the area really needs is billion-dollar land development projects. Construction could begin on two big ones as soon as next year, with one being a retail and housing complex bigger than the Mall of America (a four-level shopping mall in Minnesota that attract around 40 million shoppers a year), with the potential to add 2,200 homes to the tiny village of Tusayan, which has a population of 573, so this would be a transformation. The second project is called the Grand Canyon Escalade, and would feature an aerial tramway that could bring up to 10,000 visitors each day to the bottom of the canyon. It also includes restaurants, stores, hotels and a cultural center on 420 acres of so-far unspoiled land. The Escalade alone is a billion-dollar project, with all the construction activity that implies.

"In terms of the overall wilderness and the character of the Grand Canyon, the Escalade gondola is hands down the greatest threat in a generation," Roger Clark of the Grand Canyon Trust, a local nonprofit dedicated to protecting the Colorado Plateau, told SF Gate.

Grand Canyon Horseshoe Bend

Photo: [CC by 2.0]/Wikipedia

As if that wasn’t enough, the north side of the Grand Canyon is also being considered for uranium mining. Since 2012 there’s been a 20-year mining ban in place, but miners are trying to get it overturned. You can see a map of uranium land claims here.

Not only would this extra activity around the canyon potentially forever change its very nature, from a quiet, wild place to a busy, noisy (there are up to 65,000 helicopter tours per year), and more polluted, but thousands upon thousands of additional tourists and residents would place a severe burden on limited local water resources.

"Tusayan is in the middle of the desert, so these developments potentially affect groundwater all the way over to the canyon, which would be devastating," says Sinjin Eberle of American Rivers. "Imagine waterfalls into the canyon drying up."

Some things are worth preserving as close to their natural state as possible — t hey simply can’t be improved upon — and the Grand Canyon is definitely one of them.

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Michael Graham Richard ( @Michael_GR ) Michael writes for MNN and TreeHugger about science, space and technology and more.

The Grand Canyon is under attack (from humans)
Plans for 2 mega developments and a uranium mine in and around the iconic canyon have critics crying foul.