Sponsor of land grant legislation sees result

Former congressman is guest of honor at ceremony

Former U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth shares a celebratory moment with School Board President Clarinda Vail and other key players during a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new school property off Long Jim Loop in Tusayan. The Grand Canyon Unified School District was able to purchase the land under legislation that Hayworth sponsored.

Former U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth shares a celebratory moment with School Board President Clarinda Vail and other key players during a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new school property off Long Jim Loop in Tusayan. The Grand Canyon Unified School District was able to purchase the land under legislation that Hayworth sponsored.

As a pair of giant scissors sliced through a swath of red ribbon, the symbolism of cutting through red tape wasn't lost on anyone who had a role in last Saturday's ceremony to celebrate the Grand Canyon School District's acquisition of 80 acres of land.

"Sometimes, it takes an act of Congress," said former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who initiated just that to make expansion possible for a district with few resources. "But it took a team effort that begins and ends with you."

"It truly is cutting through red tape and it DID take an act of Congress for us to get this land," said Grand Canyon School Superintendent Sheila Breen.

But while Hayworth might have gotten the ball rolling nine years ago with his Hayworth Education Land Grant Act - or HELGA - it was two community leaders, Clarinda Vail and Pete Shearer, who picked it up seven years ago and ran with it.

Vail said that former air tour operator Ron Williams told her about new legislation that allowed land-strapped school districts to acquire acreage from the Forest Service at a nominal $10 an acre.

Because the Park Service refused to allow expansion of the campus in the park, Tusayan was the only place where the district could grow. But with little available private land and property values of up to $1 million an acre, the cost was prohibitive.

Vail and Shearer approached then-School Board President Chuck Wahler, who threw his support behind the idea. After studying several parcels, they chose one immediately off Long Jim Loop near the airport, accessible by paved road and in close proximity to utilities.

When Breen came in as superintendent of the district in 2003, "she had to hit the ground running," said Vail.

"Five years ago, I was a newcomer and there was still a lot of work to do," she said.

With her tireless effort and legal background, she helped shepherd the proper documentation through a lengthy bureaucratic and environmental review process that was completely new ground for Forest Service personnel.

Tusayan District Ranger Rick Stahn was also instrumental in keeping the process going. The land transferred at the end of March.

Hayworth initiated the legislation in response to a need in the Alpine school district for more land. He crafted it in the spirit of legislation developed in the 1860s, which granted railroad rights-of-way to states, who could then sell them and apply the money to institutions of higher learning.

"It was a way to make college available to the sons and daughters of farmers and laborers," he said.

He said it had huge support across ideological lines, with Democrat and fellow Ways and Means Committee member Jim McDermott of Washington signing on as a co-sponsor. It passed the House of Representatives with a vote of 422-0, but was held up in the Senate until another political rival, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, put pressure on his colleague to release it.

The state represented by the senator ("who shall remain nameless," Hayworth said) who put a hold on the bill was one of the early beneficiaries of the act.

"My heart belongs to my bride, miss Mary, but I carry the torch for HELGA," Hayworth said.

The first stage of development over the next five years will be putting in sports fields and a park, Vail said. Eventually they plan to build a high school, with facilities for Coconino Community College and an alternative school. They are currently seeking grants and other sources of funding.

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