THE TUWEEP AIRSTRIP IN ARIZONA HAS BEEN CLOSED
Tuweep The Grand Canyon Secret
Few things are more disappointing to pilots than an enormous white “X” marking the threshold of their favorite recreational airstrip. Such is now the case at Tuweep (L50) airstrip on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
Update: The RAF has been participating in the potential lease and reopening process of the Tuweep airstrip (near Grand Canyon) from the State of Arizona and stand ready to create a Tuweep Fund to receive tax deductible donations directed toward its future maintenance. See additional update from 17FEB06 at the bottom of this page.
Midway between the coniferous forests of the North Rim and the broiling canyon bottom, Tuweep lies at an elevation of 4600 feet on the western, red-sandstone shelf known as the Esplanade. This is high desert country with mild winters and light snows. Paiute for “barren valley,” the Toroweap valley offers a variety of plants including juniper, pinyon pine and, of course, sagebrush. Cacti and agave are more prevalent as you approach the canyon rim and during the wet years, wildflowers paint the ground and surrounding hillsides.
Wildlife is also abundant and the area offers some of the finest habitat in the nation for heavy antlered mule deer. Coyotes keep the jackrabbit population in check and the occasional rattlesnake adds excitement to day hikes.
The Toroweap Overlook of the Grand Canyon allows an experience vastly different than the south rim. Unfettered by guardrails, signs and crowded trails, there is nothing between you and a dramatic 3000 foot drop to the Colorado River below. The serpentine trail of green water is slowed by massive lava flows before it cascades over Lava Falls, the most famous rapids in the canyon. On a still day, the roar of the falls can be heard at the canyon rim.
Visiting Tuweep requires self-sufficiency and an adventuresome spirit. It’s just the type of remote destination recreational pilots look for.
Just a few years ago, nearly twenty airstrips dotted the landscape north of the Grand Canyon. They have been methodically plucked one by one from the charts and just a few remain today. The state of Arizona cites liability concerns and lack of pilot interest for these random closures. Tuweep is the most essential remaining public strip offering access to the unspoiled areas of this vast National Park.
Without History…We’re History
On January 11, 2000, a gaggle of helicopters including Marine One and four Hueys descended on the Toroweap valley. President Clinton stepped forth and announced the formation of the new Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. In a symbolic gesture, wearing a brown suede jacket and cowboy boots, Mr. Clinton sat at the dusty airstrip and signed four Presidential Proclamations on the kitchen table of Tuweep Ranger Clair Roberts. The section of state school-trust land containing Tuweep airstrip is also encompassed within the new National Monument.
The purpose of the executive order was to prevent mining and future development and to preserve the rich history of the area. Mr. Clinton was acting under the Antiquities Act passed by congress in 1906 to protect “objects of historic and scientific interest.”
That history should certainly include the life of John Riffey.
For 38 years, Riffey served as the NPS Ranger at Tuweep. He and his beloved Super Cub “Pogo,” aptly named for the short hops it took, served the visitors of the Arizona Strip and the Park as only a pilot and his airplane could. Aviation was important to Riffey. Not only for the enjoyment he felt while flying, but also for the access it offered to remote areas of the Park.
Ironically, just yards away from the table where the president signed the executive order, lies the grave of John Riffey. His date of birth and date of death do not appear on the gravestone. When he lived wasn’t important to him; how he lived was. The stone bears the image of his trusted “Pogo” and his epitaph: “The man who could spend a lifetime on the rim and not waste a minute.” Nothing else was necessary.
There Is Still Hope
Tuweep sees an average of three private aircraft landings per week during the busy season and has been used extensively by the Bureau of Land Management as a staging area during firefighting operations.
Mike Ebersole, former Tuweep Ranger, commercial pilot and airport manager for the Tuweep strip, contacted State Land Department Manager Chuck Hudson. When asked if it was too late to reverse the closure, Mr. Hudson stated that “they (the state) would not be averse to resurrecting the project and trying to keep the airstrip open.”
Although he was transferred to Sitka, Alaska in 2002, former Tuweep ranger Clair Roberts’ love for the Toroweap valley has never waned. Like Riffey, he also flew his own airplane out of Tuweep. Roberts believes the short-term solution to keep the strip open is by generating a grass-roots effort to mount a writing campaign on the state of Arizona and the FAA. He remains committed to spearheading this effort because he believes it is worth saving and that proper notice was not given to the public. Ultimately, a land swap may be the best long-term solution for keeping L50 open. Interest in the strip among pilots has always remained high and there has been no history of noise complaints. Encroachment into the Grand Canyon SFRA has been rare and largely unintentional.
Letters protesting the closure of Tuweep (L50) should be directed to the FAA and the Governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano with carbon copies to ADOT Aeronautics Division (Ray Boucher) and Arizona State Land Department (Charles Hudson).
The Honorable Janet Napolitano
Governor of Arizona
1700 West Washington
Phoenix, Arizona 85007
Charles Hudson, Manager
Environmental Resources & Trespass Section
Arizona State Land Department
1616 West Adams Street
Phoenix, AZ 85007
ADOT Aeronautics Division Program Analyst
255 Osborn Rd, Suite 101
Phoenix, AZ 85012
Update from our friends in the Utah Back Country Pilots’ Assoc. : 17FEB06
This last month has been an exciting one in the quest to obtain the lease of the Tuweep airstrip. For a while it looked like we would not be able to get anyone to underwrite the required general liability policy of $5 mil. One of the people associated with the Recreational Aviation Foundation found us a supplier so now we have that. the next step was to get the State Land to work with us in minimizing our cost exposure and give us the property that we need to get to the edge of the section eliminating the need for a right of way and the costs associated with that and this has been accomplished as well now. Our next step is having a Cultural Resource survey done by a SHPO permitted contractor. I have selected one for this and that work shall start early February. I’m hoping to get the lease finalized by the end of Feb.
On another note………..
Several APA members and back country activists have been attending this week’s public meetings in Kingman, Phoenix and Flagstaff regarding the BLM Draft Plan for the Arizona Strip. We have counted 21 strips up there and in the proposed plan only 8 are to be recognized and would remain. Tuweep of course is one that wasn’t recognized but after letting them know the status of our lease negotiations that will change. However there is a written comment period now underway and all comments are due by March 17. Your Recreational Airport Committee will be drafting a comment from the APA and will also provide a letter of comment in a template for each of you to use in your own comments to the BLM.
There will be a large push for this in February and the only way we will preserve some of these back country jewels is to come at them with a large number of comments.
Please contact me via email if you would like to be listed as one interested in saving these strips and are willing to send in your comments.
Thank you in advance
Recreational Airport Committee
Submitted on April 5, 2005.
It is now September 2021 and L50 airstrip does not seem to be reopening. Is there any efforts being conducted to reopen Tuweep?
I would like to know about L50, Tuweep, Arizona as well. On one map I saw, It looks like L50 is now be inside the new Grand Canyon – Parashant National Monument. Does that change things at all?
now January 2023 — I landed there a few times “back in the day”. It is a significant strip, right up there with Las Trancas, Chicken strip and ..well pick your favorite ….it’s awesome!
Since this is a 20 year anniversary, why not put this back on the radar so folks don’t have to go “under the radar” to land there?