PEACH SPRINGS — The Hualapai Tribe, a small Native American nation on a large reservation in northwest Arizona, is working closely with the state and federal departments of transportation to improve access to Grand Canyon West, its tourism center and Peach Springs, its tribal center.
The 2,000-strong tribe, led by chairwoman Louise Benson, is seeking funds from the federal Highway Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, to pave 14 miles of Diamond Bar Road leading to Grand Canyon West.
The FHWA already has provided $1 million toward the $10.5 million cost of paving the roadway and is considering additional allocations.
“The combination of air traffic, ground transportation and commercial river use is an example of the growth we have experienced in this unique corner of the world,” Benson told the International Transportation Symposium, sponsored by the USDOT. “Intermodal travel has provided travelers from all over the world the opportunity to become acquainted with Hualapai culture.
“In essence, transportation promotes an awareness of cultures indigenous to the Grand Canyon region and it reinforces the pride which the Hualapai feel as they conduct tourist operations,” she added. “In addition to giving, we receive as a people, and the interchange brings cultural perspectives of the Hualapai which broaden our appreciation of the world.”
However, Benson added that there are challenges to bringing economic development to a rural tribe.
“In one word, we face the challenge of balance,” she said. “Advances in our economy must foster the preservation of our environment so that we do not destroy the very resource we are wishing to display to the world.”
Grand Canyon West is a 9,000-acre refuge, anchored by a busy airport that annually offers 100,000 domestic and international tourists scenic vistas, river rafting excursions, pontoon boat rides, scenic float trips and air exploration of the western end of the Grand Canyon.
The backbone of Hualapai economic development is located just 120 miles from Las Vegas, hub for scenic flights to Grand Canyon West and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
The Hualapai Tribe, which has occupied its ancestral lands for 700 years, also has worked closely with the Arizona Department of Transportation to upgrade the surface of 60 miles of Historic Route 66, including the entire 16 miles that traverse the reservation and bisect Peach Springs in the process.
However, the crown jewel of the ADOT support is a $558,169 project to create a landscaped community plaza across from Peach Springs Lodge, where the Hualapai can sell arts and crafts and hold community meetings.
There, tourists can also have a comfortable place to relax while waiting for a bus or river-rafting experience. Work on the plaza is expected to be completed in December.
Benson said the Hualapai Tribe is working with federal park and recreation agencies to avoid exceeding capacity on the Colorado River, developing a master plan to protect against vehicle congestion at Grand Canyon West and communicating with the Federal Aviation Adminis-tration to keep Grand Canyon overflights reasonable.
Benson also said the tribe recently constructed an education center linked by satellite with Northern Arizona University to train tribal members in the hospitality industry, connect with international tourism and provide “a tangible link to cultures, people and places.”
Still, Benson told the symposium that the tribe wants to maintain a level of privacy while increasing economic development.
“Planning has taken this community value (privacy) into account and has focused on transportation developments appropriately re-moved from our cultural and residential centers,” Benson said. “Our ultimate objective is to develop a comfortable balance between cultural interchange and cultural privacy.
“Unless this balance is achieved, aspects of our cultural and natural resources will continue to be threatened,” she added.
ADOT also is upgrading five bridges and their approaches just west of the Hualapai Nation to increase safety of Historic Route 66.
The $359,668 project, which includes replacing bridge railings with concrete barriers and installing guardrail on the bridge approaches, also will be finished in December.
The Hualapai tourism efforts are producing $2 million a year in wages and benefits for tribal members. Additionally, sales tax and helicopter revenues from the Grand Canyon West operation support Hualapai government programs.
Grand Canyon West is located about 40 miles from Peach Springs.