Challenge accepted! Phantom Challenge kicks off

The countdown to 277 miles began with a rim hike Aug. 25

Grand Canyon students and staff, along with their families, gather for the first official hike of the Phantom Challenge Aug. 25.

Erin Ford/WGCN

Grand Canyon students and staff, along with their families, gather for the first official hike of the Phantom Challenge Aug. 25.

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — Only a handful of people can say they’ve hiked the entire length of the Grand Canyon, but the National Park Service and Grand Canyon School are hoping to help community members log those 277 miles as part of the Phantom Challenge.

The Phantom Challenge encourages Grand Canyon students, staff and community members to log 277 miles of activity during the 2017-2018 school year. NPS rangers and school staff will be organizing a number of activities to help participants achieve their goal. Organized activities will be geared toward all ability and fitness levels and can include walking, biking, hiking or even snow-shoeing.

The Phantom Challenge officially began with the first event Aug. 25. Participants hiked through the forest to the Abyss and then walked along the rim to chalk up their first miles.

The Phantom Challenge was created through a partnership between Grand Canyon School and NPS. Last October, Grand Canyon physical education teacher Rosie Evans applied for the NPS’ Active Trails grant, which provides funding for programs promoting an active, healthy lifestyle.

After securing the grant to fund the Phantom Challenge, Evans and Amala Monk, resource education training specialists and distance learning coordinator, set out to design a community calendar of events to get the Grand Canyon community involved. Evans said participants will receive milestone rewards to help them stay motivated throughout the year, as well keep track of their fitness progress.

Along with on-the-rim activities, the Phantom Challenge will include four progressively rigorous hikes into the inner canyon. These hikes will be designed to help participants build up strength and endurance for the final goal: an overnight backpacking trip to Phantom Ranch via the Bright Angel Trail.

In addition to providing opportunities for outdoor recreation, Monk said some activities will also have an educational focus. The Challenge includes two Weekend Science Academies, which will provide an opportunity for students to camp and work with education park rangers while earning extra credit for their science classes.

The Challenge also includes a senior class trip, which Monk and Evans hope will become a permanent, annual event. The trip will include three hikes to locations within the canyon, where they will work with rangers to learn about human history, geology and ecology. The grand finale will be a smooth water rafting trip on the Colorado River. Monk said the seniors have already participated in a senior field day event to learn about the canyon environment and gather experience for the longer hikes.

Monk said while many of the students have lived at Grand Canyon for many years, a lot of them had never hiked all the way to the bottom.

“This will give them an opportunity to learn about the canyon environment,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity for learning outside a classroom.”

The students won’t be the only ones learning, however. The Phantom Challenge also includes an annual teacher workshop at Phantom Ranch. Grand Canyon teachers will work with NPS biologists, archaeologists, botanists and geologists to help tie Grand Canyon National Park’s vast amount of educational resources to the school curriculum.

Evans said keeping the students excited and motivated to pursue healthy outdoor activities is important — which is why the school’s multipurpose room and cafeteria now houses a mileage tracker for students to see their progress.

“The mileage tracker is important because it’s keeping them accountable, but it also allows them to be proud of what they’ve accomplished,” she said.

At the end of the school year, awards will be presented to the top five mileage leaders in addition to the milestone rewards like pedometers, water bottles, hats and t-shirts.

The grant, currently a one-time award of $25,000, will be used to purchase the mileage rewards and activity supplies such as food for camping trips and snowshoes for winter activities. Both Evans and Monk hope to renew grant funding in subsequent years, as well as garner support from the town of Tusayan, which makes up over half the school’s student population.

“After 13 years in the park and nine years working at the school, I feel the best way to bring our community together is through our kids,” Monk said. “If we can find a common bond to bring us together, I think we can create a stronger community.”

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