Agency Spotlight–Grand Canyon National Park

by | Jun 27, 2017

Last Updated May 29, 2024


The Grand Canyon became a national park in 1919 and is considered one of the Wonders of the World.

Grand Canyon History

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon and said, “The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It’s beyond comparison—beyond description; unparalleled throughout the wide world…let this great wonder remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity, and loveliness. You cannot improve upon on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s’ children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”

Even after this, the site didn’t immediately become a national park. Senator Benjamin Harrison introduced a bill in 1882 that would’ve established it as the second national park. However, it didn’t pass, and he tried again in 1883 and 1886. After elected President, he established the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve in 1893.

Theodore Roosevelt created the Grand Canyon Game Preserve by proclamation on November 28, 1906, and the Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908.

President Woodrow Wilson finally signed the Grand Canyon National Park Act in 1919. The National Park Service assumed administration of the park.

In 1979, it became a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

A World Heritage Site is a landmark/area which is officially recognized by the United Nations, specifically UNESCO. Sites must display cultural, historic, scientific, or another form of significance. Legally protected by international treaties, a World Heritage Site is already a classified landmark. Nominated sites must have “outstanding universal value” and meet at least one of the following 10 criteria:


  1. “represents a masterpiece of human creative genius and cultural significance”
  2. “exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time, or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning, or landscape design”
  3. “is directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance”
  4. “to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which is disappeared”
  5. “is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural, or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history”
  6. “is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land use, or sea use which is representative of a culture, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change”


  1. “contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance”
  2. “is an outstanding example representing major stages of Earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features”
  3. “is an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal, and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals”
  4. “contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those contained threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation”

The Grand Canyon meets all the “natural” criteria, listed above.

In 2010, the park received its own coin under the America the Beautiful Quarters program.


The Colorado River carved out the Grand Canyon and most of the park is extremely rugged and remote. The canyon is over 277 river miles long and up to 18 miles wide and 1 mile deep at spots. Formed during 6 million years of geological activity and erosion by the river, the canyon displays horizontal strata that date back 2 billion years and represents 4 major geologic eras. It is considered one of the finest examples of arid-land erosion in the world.

The biological diversity is attributed to the presence of 5 of the 7 life zones and 3 of the 4 desert types in North America. That is the equivalent of traveling from Mexico to Canada. The life zone represented are:

  • Lower Sonoran—low, hot desert
  • Upper Sonoran—desert steppe or chaparral
  • Transition—open woodlands
  • Canadian—fir forest
  • Hudsonian—spruce forest

An estimated 5.9 million people visit Grand Canyon National Park each year.

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