OldWestNewWest.com: History & Travel Magazine

Feb 22nd
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Home National & State Parks Grand Canyon Grand Canyon National Park celebrates 90th Anniversary; Opening of Verkamp's Visitor Center

Grand Canyon National Park celebrates 90th Anniversary; Opening of Verkamp's Visitor Center

Hits smaller text tool iconmedium text tool iconlarger text tool icon
Grand Canyon National Park toasted its 90th anniversary Feb. 26, 2009, along with the opening of the Verkamp's Visitor Center, and the public enjoyed a series of programs, cake and punch to mark the celebration.

It was on February 26, 1919, that President Woodrow Wilson signed Senate Bill 390 creating Grand Canyon National Park, an unparalleled landscape to be protected and enjoyed for future generations.

One of the early entrepreneurs at the Grand Canyon was John G. Verkamp, who first sold curios to tourists out of a tent near the Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim in 1898.

A few years later, he built and opened Verkamp's Curios. The retail store closed September 2008 after operating for more than 100 years, but the National Park Service wanted to reuse the historic structure, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and use it to have a greater presence in the Grand Canyon Village.

So, the agency, along with its long-standing partner, the Grand Canyon Association (GCA), opened the Verkamp's Visitor Center in November after developing and installing exhibits that profile the history of the Verkamp family and their role in the park and community of Grand Canyon.

"It is only fitting to simultaneously celebrate the Grand Canyon's 90th anniversary and honor the Verkamp legacy here on the South Rim," said Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Steve Martin. "The Verkamp family has been an integral part of the canyon's history and has helped to make this park what it is for residents and the millions of visitors who have ventured here over the years."

World Heritage Site

Grand Canyon National Park is a World Heritage Site visited by approximately 4.5 million people each year. This figure is much higher than the 44,000 people who visited the park in 1919, but the canyon was no less a source of inspiration for these early tourists. The Grand Canyon received national park status in 1919, but concerned citizens and leaders had been working diligently for its protection since late in the 19th century.

Today, the canyon is home to approximately 2,000 year-round residents. Whether taking in the sights on the rim or descending into its depths, the canyon has been a source of inspiration for tourists and residents alike. This is one message that the NPS is now trying to convey at the new Verkamp's Visitor Center.

"We share so much about the park resources with visitors, but our park residents are resources too," said Grand Canyon Exhibit Specialist Jennie Albrinck. "They support the park and keep it running, serve the visitors, and all the while carve out a community for themselves. What we were going for at Verkamp's Visitor Center was the idea that while Grand Canyon is an amazing national park, for many of us it is also our home."

History of Verkamp's

The exhibits at the Verkamp's Visitor Center bring the Grand Canyon community alive. People have the opportunity to explore Native American involvement in the community; discover how people have come to the Grand Canyon as residents and visitors; and how, over time, residents have come together to make the Canyon their home. The welcome sign invites visitors to make it their home too.

Verkamp's Curios, which was constructed in 1906, was operated by three generations of family members, who provided a wide range of gift items to a century's worth of visitors.

The family worked hard to build and maintain positive relationships with regional Native American artists, whose handcrafts were sold at the retail store. In addition to operating Verkamp's Curios, family members were always involved in community affairs. Over the years, they participated in the planning and financing of the present community building, Grand Canyon School, Shrine of the Ages and medical clinic on the South Rim.

"The Verkamp family moved to the park and began to be a part of the history of Grand Canyon before we became a national park, and they chose after all of this time to not continue the family business on the rim," Martin said.

The park was able to purchase the building, he explained, and open what is really only the second visitor facility that's on the rim.

"The theme of that building is the history of Grand Canyon the settlement of the people that who came to take care of the tourist and the people who live here," he added. "So we are really excited to have this opportunity and we are sad that the Verkamp family is moving on to other enterprises and undertakings.

"We think that the Verkamp name is will be well preserved there as well as the history of the Grand Canyon. It is something we can share with our visitors who come here and want to learn about what has gone on at Grand Canyon for the last ninety or one-hundred years."

The Grand Canyon's rugged and beautiful landscape has drawn people, such as the Verkamp family, for decades. Yet, the Canyon is not just a place of beauty and inspiration - it is an international icon that has had far-reaching effects on society.

"As we celebrate Grand Canyon National Park's 90th anniversary and move toward the centennial of the National Park Service in 2016, we should look back at the integral roles the Grand Canyon and the National Park Service have played in our nation's history," said Superintendent Martin. "And more importantly, we should consider their place in our nation's future."

The Verkamp's Visitor Center is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. MST.The NPS currently offers two ranger programs at the visitor center. A rim hike leaves Verkamp's each morning at 10:00 a.m. and a history talk is presented each day at 11:00 a.m.

During the busy summer season, other ranger programs will be offered including children's story time, cultural displays and nature walks. The GCA operates a bookstore within the visitor center, so people also have the opportunity to browse and purchase high-quality educational materials that focus on the natural and cultural history of the Grand Canyon region.

For more information about visiting Grand Canyon National Park, go to the park's Web site at
www.nps.gov/grca or call (928) 638-7888

National & State Parks