Updated: February 7, 2014 at 6:19 pm
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Trails that take visitors to the depths of the Grand Canyon, along the Colorado River and into backcountry wilderness will benefit from a donation provided by Arizona's largest public utility.
The $1 million donation from Arizona Public Service Co. was split between a project to renovate the trailhead of the popular Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim and the creation of an endowment for the trail system.
Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga said the money will help reduce a backlog of trail maintenance that has topped $40 million.
Don Brandt, chairman and chief executive of APS, said he would encourage others to donate to the endowment. Of the canyon's 350 miles of trails, about one-third undergo scheduled maintenance while others receive only emergency work.
"If something's not done to protect them, down the road they will be gone and lost forever," Brandt said.
Uberuaga said heavy rain, erosion and foot and mule traffic have taken a toll on the trail system. More than 37,000 people hiked the canyon's backcountry last year, he said, with more taking day hikes on other trails more accessible from the rim or the river.
The start to the Bright Angel Trail was redesigned earlier this year to include an etched rock sign marking the trailhead, a new paved parking lot, new restrooms and a plaza for hikers to rest. The trail was one of the first entryways into the Grand Canyon, built by the Havasupai people.
APS donated $350,000 to the project. The other $650,000 of the $1 million donation is being used to create the endowment that will be managed by the Grand Canyon's fundraising arm, the Grand Canyon Association.
The association's executive director, Susan Schroeder, said the money will help offset budget shortfalls and keep Grand Canyon trails open to the public.
The association is similar to organizations around the country that provide funds for visitor services or maintenance with the National Park Service, said agency spokesman Mike Litterst. The largest public-private partnership in the history of the park service was between the National Mall and its trust, which has raised millions of dollars to maintain and restore the park, Litterst said.
In Arizona, outside groups have helped fund interns at Petrified Forest National Park near Holbrook, and environmental education, trail maintenance and the tracking of desert tortoises at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, said Kevin Dahl of the environmental advocacy group, the National Parks Conservation Association.