It’s one of the most common questions asked at Grand Canyon National Park — "Where can we have a picnic?"
Currently, there are a number of picnic tables in various spots on the South Rim, but not enough to meet demand and many in spots generally not noticed by the public. A couple of the most popular areas seem to be on Desert View Drive between Yaki Point and Shoshone Point, as well as the tables at Canyon Village Marketplace.
"We lost our only developed picnic area three years ago with Market Plaza Road," GCNP’s Tom Pittenger said. "Since then, money has been set aside to do something for picnic areas."
Pittenger just recently ordered 30 new metal picnic tables with 20 to 25 of those to be scattered around the developed area on the South Rim. The other five to 10 will replace older picnic tables that have worn out.
"We’re just trying to get some tables out there," Pittenger said. "We get a lot of requests for picnic tables."
The picnic tables were purchased through fee demonstration project funds.
The park put together a committee to identify potential locations for the new picnic tables. Various criteria were considered, such as easy access from where people park their vehicles.
The committee also wanted the tables to be in the shade, if possible. Another wish was to have the tables near water, although Pittenger said that was a tough one in many cases. It was also suggested that the tables be located near restrooms and that trash barrels be in the vicinity.
Finally, spots picked out for picnic tables are located in previously disturbed areas. Pittenger said sites needed to be level enough so no work would be necessary.
"We sifted through all possible sites and wanted to make sure we weren’t disturbing the sites at all, just placing the tables," Pittenger said.
Although wishes for the picnic table sites were identified, Pittenger said none of the sites meet all criteria.
Among the areas identified to be getting picnic tables:
o In the park’s Backcountry Office area near Maswik Transportation Center. The picnic tables will be placed in front of the information center.
o Next to the Magistrate’s Office, south of a little parking area.
o Along the south edge of the railroad tracks area close to the big parking lot and extending toward the depot.
o In the Bright Angel Trailhead area.
o In front of the Shrine of the Ages, between the building and the parking lot near the fence.
o In the Camper Services area, between the building and concessions office.
o In the South Kaibab Trailhead area.
Among those sites, placing picnic tables in the Bright Angel Trailhead area has raised the most discussion.
"The Bright Angel Trailhead has been an area we’ve all wrestled with," Pittenger said. "It’s a real debatable site. At the South Kaibab Trailhead, there’s no place for hikers to sit down while waiting for the shuttle. There will be a couple of tables up where the sales tables were. The Bright Angel Trailhead is where we have questions."
One of the concerns involves Xanterra Parks and Resorts, which maintains the Bright Angel Trailhead area. At a community meeting on Aug. 8, Pittenger admitted that putting picnic tables there "impacts some of their responsibilities."
Bill Johnston, Xanterra’s general manager, voiced liability concerns at the meeting.
"I’m not saying we don’t want them, I just want to know the liability issues," Johnston said. "People will love them."
The park and Xanterra worked out an agreement.
"Our agreement was to just try it," Pittenger said. "After talking with Bill, he said we’ll try it and see how it works out."
The tables will be placed south of the Rim Trail in currently disturbed areas. Bathroom facilities will be located nearby when the Kolb garage is converted into a restroom.
Delaware North Parks Services also hopes to put in more picnic tables near its village store. General manager Derek Zwickey said a comprehensive landscaping plan was submitted that proposes tables in an area from the store to the bank.
"In that plan is increased picnic seating for the guests," Zwickey said. "I’d say a low estimate would be an extra 60 seats."
Tables located in front of the store are usually full all day, Zwickey said.
At the community meeting, David Chambers of Grand Canyon Railway expressed a desire to see picnic tables in the vicinity of the depot. Train passengers arrive at the South Rim around lunchtime.
"We looked at the train depot area and there were pros and cons for that particular area," Pittenger said.
A decision was made to place tables in the railroad tracks area among the ponderosa pine near the large parking lot.