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Plan to build aerial tram in the Grand Canyon one step closer to reality

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The Grand Canyon Escalade would carry up to 10,000 people per day

A long-debated plan to build a tram on the east rim of the Grand Canyon is one step closer to fruition, as recent legislation seeks approval from the Navajo Nation lawmakers. The controversial project—first proposed in 2012—calls for a 420-acre tourist hub, including a gondola-style tram, a riverwalk, amphitheater, and food pavilion.

Called the Grand Canyon Escalade and pitched by Scottsdale-based developer Confluence Partners, the 1.4-mile tram could shuttle up to 10,000 people per day in 8-person gondolas on a 10-minute ride from the rim to the confluence of the Colorado River and the Little Colorado River. Once at the bottom of the canyon, the Escalade would provide "an educational and sightseeing experience." A Discovery Center on the Grand Canyon’s cliffs would host "cultural and historical experiences" as well as 47,000-square-feet of recreation, arts, events, dining, and shopping. The legislation also proposes $65 million in tribal development funds for roads and other improvements.

Proponents of the tram say it will create jobs on a largely jobless area of the reservation and provide easier access to the floor of the Grand Canyon. But critics over the past five years, including a Navajo opposition group called Save the Confluence, argue that the Escalade is a prime example of ‘industrial tourism’. They believe the development threatens the natural wonder of the Colorado River, characterizing it as the ‘Disneyfication’ of the Grand Canyon.

The resolution will go before three committees before reaching the Navajo Nation Council for a vote.