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Quiet Canyon

The usual lineup of cars at the main entrance to the Grand Canyon is now replaced with rows of orange traffic cones and a large sign that reads, “The Grand Canyon is Closed.”

With the cessation of services during the COVID-19 crisis, school closures and the inevitable unemployment, agencies and businesses in the Grand Canyon Village along with the nearby Town of Tusayan have become a living chronicle of loving your neighbor as yourself.

“So many people and businesses have stepped up to help families in need,” said Grand Canyon Chamber President Laura Chastain. “A lot of great things have been done and we’re all trying to do more.”

To help the community, the South Rim Chamber of Commerce has a page on its website for local information. “I try to update this daily with days and hours of the Food Pantry and the Tusayan Food Bank,” said Chastain.

Also, the National Park Service (NPS) has established a Community Task Force, which is conducting daily conference calls about how COVID-19 is affecting the community and addressing issues as they arise.

“Everything is going well with the Community Task Force. Everybody is working hard to collaborate on what the community needs now and moving forward,” said NPS Visitor Use Assistant Rachel Meghan Ware. “The Tusayan Chamber of Commerce initiated a community survey, which is being used to gauge what more is needed to support community members.”

A weekly community meeting takes place via phone every Wednesday. Community members can call in to receive updates as well as ask questions.

Tusayan Town Manager Cynthia Seelhammer said ensuring people have essential services has been her focus. “Most of the people have been without a paycheck for over a month now. We are making sure people have food, access to laundry services and assisting the school to make sure the children have computers and WiFi so they can continue their studying online.”

Stilo Development USA has partnered with St. Mary’s Food Bank in Flagstaff for more than five years, ensuring eligible families at the Grand Canyon, Tusayan and Valle received their food boxes. “During this COVID-19 crisis, we have upwards of 35 plus volunteers meeting weekly to supply food boxes to over 350 families,” said Community Outreach Coordinator Sandy Agat.

The Tusayan Fire Department is another big player in helping distribute food and oversee volunteers. “St. Mary’s has even donated 574 pounds of dog food,” said firefighter Kate Maragos.

Buckwild Hummer Tours Manager Stoney Ward and his wife have donated their time helping with food distribution and have developed a website for families to register for the Food Bank. “This has been a big help with keeping up with the procedures and strict guidelines we have to adhere to,” said Agat.

Xanterra Interpretive Tour Bus Driver Gayle Solis, who lives alone at the South Rim of The Grand Canyon, is enjoying the change of pace. “The company calls us every couple of days to make sure we’re okay. At first I had the motivation of a slug, but now I’m using my time to complete my taxes, clean my apartment and spend time with my fur babies. No cabin fever here.”

Both Lindsey Graterol and her husband were laid off from their jobs at the Grand Canyon. “Overall, we are doing okay during this difficult time. We have been using this time to finish projects, rest, read, pray and spend quality time together. Instead of focusing on the harsh reality of the situation, which can be overwhelming at times, we try to use this time for good.”

While some offices here are open, many employees are working from home. “Most NPS employees are teleworking and continuing to carry out the mission of the Park Service while trying to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said NPS Public Affairs Specialist Lillian Daniels.

“We are working to do whatever we can to make sure we are reaching out to all our students,” said Grand Canyon School Dean of Students Lori Rommel. “Teachers and support staff are calling, texting, emailing and using other school social media tools to make contact. We want to make sure families know that they can call the school if they need support. We love and miss all of our students.”

The Town of Tusayan has also been paying for lunches for the school children on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. “Recognizing the immense pressure that parents face in this uncertain time, the Tusayan Town Council wants everyone to know we are here for you,” said Tusayan Vice-Mayor Brady Harris.

Volunteers prepare the lunches at the IMAX Theater and the Grand Canyon PTA distributes the lunches throughout the community.

Although most stores are closed at the Grand Canyon, Delaware North (DNC) is continuing to operate the Canyon Village Market with limited hours. “We offer local residents a discount and have marked floors for social distancing and installed plexiglass at the cashier stands. We are also monitoring the volume of customers in the building,” said DNC General Manager Dan Cornforth.

The United States Post Office and Chase Bank remain open for business while adhering to public health officials’ safety guidelines.

When the state’s top tourism attraction will open up is still unknown. “The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service are working on a comprehensive plan to reopen closed facilities, units and lands when appropriate and in accordance with federal, state and local public health guidance,” said Daniels. FBN

By V. Ronnie Tierney, FBN


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