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Mon, Aug. 03

Field Institute cuts fees for local residents

The Grand Canyon Field Institute is making it easier for locals to learn more about their magnificent backyard with a 50 percent discount on most of its classes for the 2006 season.

"Locals are a great asset to any trip," said GCFI Director Mike Buchheit. "They bring a different perspective."

With the discount, residents are welcome to take classes on a space-available basis. A catalog is available online at Rather than registering on line, locals should call 638-2485 no earlier than 21 days before the start of a desired course.

The Grand Canyon Field Institute was started in 1993 as a program of the Grand Canyon Association, by request of former GCNP Superintendent Bob Chandler.

"He and others looked around at big parks out west. We were the only ones who didn't have a program at the time," said Buchheit. "We're modeled after the program at Yellowstone. We had some of the same challenges ­ we're both remote parks with neat stuff in the back country."

GCFI's mission parallels that of Grand Canyon Association ­ to support the park's interpretive mission. They do that by providing 36,000 interpretive hours a year.

"Our goal is to find ways to support park interpretation," Buchheit said. "In everything we do there is an educational component. All courses are reviewed by a Park Service panel."

The average GCFI student is a woman in her late 40s, from the legal or medical field, visiting from an urban area in the southwest and classified as a frequenter of national parks.

GCFI started with about a half-dozen classes. Today they offer 130, exploring natural and human history, Native American culture, geology, biology, women, backcountry skills and art. About half of those are catalog classes and half are provided on demand to families, school groups, business groups and others.

GCFI's campus in most cases is the Canyon itself, with some staging done from the Community Building or Kolb Studio.

Students also have opportunities to explore the volcanic fields of the San Francisco Peaks, birdwatching opportunities in Verde Valley, photography in Marble Canyon, archeology along the Escalante route or a float down the San Juan River.

They can also take part in service or research projects ­ for example, in archaeological surveys, wildlife censuses and revegetation projects.

The institute will also tailor niche programs for specialized groups.

Classes range in length from a day hike to an 18-day raft trip. About 75 percent of the classes have a backpacking component from introductory level to 10 days off trail. Rim to rim hikes are the most popular, Buchheit said.

Trip participants are screened for ability before being accepted into a class.

"We want them to get the trip that's right for them," he said.

They also sponsor an annual training seminar for tour guides each February, covering Park Service resources, backcountry medicine and operations, basic geology and law enforcement.

GCFI operates on an annual budget of about $300,000, with revenue coming from tuitions and some donations.

"We are a scissor step from breaking even," Buchheit said.

The Institute has three paid instructors and about 30 who work as independent contractors. Buchheit said many more are interested.

"I'm embarrassed at how many people I say no to," Buchheit said. "But we are looking for people with a unique arsenal of skills in the backcountry, in leading trips of diverse groups, plus have expertise in one or more Grand Canyon related topics. That's quite a series of filters. And, they have to have a passion for the place."

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