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Science and Innovations

The Grand Canyon Is Losing Its Riverside Campsites

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U.S. Geological Survey
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Campsites for river runners are vanishing in the Grand Canyon, according to new research from the U.S. Geological Survey and Northern Arizona University. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

Scientists surveyed 35 campsites on sandbars along the Colorado River, and found campsite area decreased by nearly 40 percent between 2002 and 2016. That’s mostly due to thick vegetation growth on top of the sandbars.

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Credit U.S. Geological Survey
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A survey team measures the area and topography of a campsite in the Grand Canyon

Matt Kaplinski of Northern Arizona University is one of the study’s authors. He says, "If you talk to old timers down there, they’ll tell you about huge open sandbars. Nowadays, there are still some big open sandbars down there, but a lot of the camping, the sleeping areas are back up in the vegetation and in a lot of cases they’re carved out by river runners." 

Kaplinski says high-flow experiments at Glen Canyon Dam have temporarily rebuilt sandbars, but these controlled floods aren’t big enough to scour out the vegetation.

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Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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