This poster was presented at A Century of Design in the Parks Symposium, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 21-23, 2016.
By James W. Steely
Grand Canyon National Park in 1970 finally realized a long-considered plan to pipe North Rim water from prolific Roaring Springs Cave to the South Rim and its much larger and more popular visitor and administration village. Construction on the 12.4-mile Transcanyon Water Line began in 1965, made possible through Mission 66 funding and by pioneering helicopter transport of aluminum pipe lengths to remote locations in Bright Angel Fault. The colorful contractor installed the pipe with special machines—following NPS plans drafted by the Western Office of Design and Construction—under North Kaibab Trail, River Trail, Plateau Point and Trail, and Bright Angel Trail. The contractor in 1966 also built the 722-foot-long “Silver Bridge” to carry the pipeline across the Colorado River. Perfection of the water delivery system continued through 1986 with facilities planned during Mission 66 and successor funding program Parkscape USA, and into the intriguing era of “NPS Rustic Revival” for a Ranger Residence and remodeling of a Pumphouse.
The earliest engineering resources of the pipeline turned 50 years old in 2015, just as NPS approached final plans for its replacement. Consideration of the pipeline as a historic property, eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, presented a number of challenges: the pipe manufacturer’s specified life expectancy had been 30 years; leaks appeared immediately after installation and continually taxed NPS maintenance resources for decades thereafter; and Mission 66 infrastructure projects are little studied and difficult to place in historic context. During 2015 for Section 106 compliance of the complex pipeline replacement undertaking, NPS commissioned a detailed Determination of Eligibility as a NRHP nomination, documentation for the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), and compilation of key historic facts and events for interpretation of what might be the signature Mission 66 infrastructure project nationwide.
James Steely is a historian and architectural historian with decades of experience in the West and Southwest. He holds a master’s degree in architectural history from the University of Texas at Austin. He previously served at the Texas State Historic Preservation Office for 13 years as Deputy SHPO, and taught graduate courses in building documentation at UT Austin. As a consulting historian for the past 15 years, Mr. Steely works throughout the nation from the Denver office of SWCA Environmental Consultants. His publication Parks for Texas: Enduring Landscapes of the New Deal won the T.R. Fehrenbach Book Award in 2000.