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Feb. 26, 1919: The Grand Canyon becomes a national park

Christy Karras
February 26, 2014

Making the Grand Canyon into a national park seems like a no-brainer — the place’s name says it all. At more than a mile deep in some spots, and with the Colorado River carving out layer after layer of multicolored rock, it’s definitely grand.

Millions of years went into making the Grand Canyon, and decades went into making it a national park. Explorers such as John Wesley Powell had been learning abut the canyon and reporting its splendor by the 1850s, and bills to preserve it from development were floated in Congress as early as 1882. It became a national monument in 1908, but some fought efforts to set the canyon aside as a national park because they wanted to dam and store water in it or set up mining operations there.

President Woodrow Wilson’s signature on the bill making park status official in 1919 was a victory for generations of advocates including Teddy Roosevelt. When he visited the Grand Canyon in 1903, Roosevelt proclaimed, “Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve 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."

Today, Grand Canyon National Park attracts a whopping 5 million tourists a year, making it one of the world’s most recognizable destinations. For Americans’ especially, heading to the Grand Canyon is almost a kind of pilgrimage to see one of their nation’s greatest sights for themselves.