Grand Canyon Skywalk
The Grand Canyon Skywalk is a tourist attraction, commissioned by the Hualapai Indian tribe, unveiled March 20, 2007 and to be opened to the public on March 28, 2007, along the Colorado River on the edge of the Grand Canyon in the U.S. state of Arizona. The Skywalk charges $25 per person in addition to Grand Canyon West entry fees.
The horseshoe-shaped glass walkway is suspended 4,000 feet (1 219 meters) above the canyon, a height that eclipses the world's largest skyscrapers. It protrudes 65 feet (20 meters) from the edge of the canyon, and its walls and floor are built from glass 4 inches (10.2 cm) thick. The Skywalk is able to hold 7 tons of weight, allowing for 800 people weighing 175 lbs. (80 kg) each to stand on the bridge; the allowed capacity, though, will be limited to only 120 persons. All visitors will be provided with shoe covers to protect them from slipping and to prevent scratching of the glass floor.
In addition to tuned mass dampers used to minimize vibration from wind and pedestrians, the structure was built to withstand up to 100 mph winds and a magnitude 8 earthquake. Construction of the Skywalk began in March 2004. It was rolled onto the edge of the canyon on March 7, 2007 after passing several days of final testing to replicate weather, strength and endurance conditions of its final destination. According to Hualapai officials, the cost of the Skywalk alone will exceed $40 million.
The Grand Canyon Skywalk complex will also include a museum, movie theater, VIP lounge, gift shop, and several restaurants including a high-end restaurant called The Skywalk Café where visitors will be able to dine outdoors at the canyon's rim. It is the cornerstone of a larger plan by the tribe, which they hope will be the catalyst for a 9,000-acre development to be called Grand Canyon West: it would open up a long-inaccessible 100-mile stretch of countryside along the canyon's South Rim and include hotels, restaurants, a golf course and a cable car to ferry visitors from the canyon rim to the Colorado River. The tribe partnered with Las Vegas-based businessman David Jin to raise the money for the project in exchange for a percentage of the profits.
The planning and construction of the Skywalk has caused controversy within the Hualapai as well as between the tribe and outside groups. Opponents within the tribe view the project as disturbing sacred ground. Supporters within the tribe counter that it is an opportunity to generate much-needed cash to combat the serious problems that plague the small 2,000-resident reservation, such as a 50% unemployment rate, widespread alcoholism and poverty. Other tribal members are fine with the Skywalk, but show concern over future over-development and the potential lack of sustainability, as the water used in both the development and the neighboring Grand Canyon National Park are not taken from the Colorado River, but piped or trucked in from elsewhere.
People outside of the tribe, including Arizona environmental groups and former National Park officials, find problems with the project's obtrusiveness in the natural environment, considering it a defacement of a national treasure; some suggest it is ironic that the Hualapai had argued they were the best caregivers and stewards of the Grand Canyon, and yet have decided to exploit it so heavily. Tribal leaders counter that the 4.5 million people a year who visit the National Park portion are already overburdening an area and that the tribe needs financial support. The tribe's million-acre reservation attracts approximately 200,000 visitors a year and charges for rim-side weddings and stunt jumps (including one by Robbie Knievel). They have made an unsuccessful foray into opening a casino which has not been able to generate substantial income.