I read an article in the recent issue of General Aviation News about the Tuweep Airport (Change the Constitution, save an airport, April 22 issue.) According to the article, this airport was recently closed.
I was a ranger in Grand Canyon National Park in the mid-1960s. I am also a pilot who has landed at the Tuweep Airport many times. I supervised the park ranger who lived just inside the park boundary, who also was a pilot and owned a Piper P-18. He had the airplane tied down on the airport. His name was John Riffey. He died at his home in 1980 and is buried close to his home in what used to be Grand Canyon National Monument.
John was well liked in the “Arizona Strip” and a good friend of local ranchers and the county road crew. In fact, he laid out the runway and conned the county grader operator to construct the runway and to maintain it at least once a year.
John used his airplane for both government business and for personal travel. He was a hero to many of the float trip operators who relied on John for communication. He relayed many messages regarding injury, rescue and other emergency needs. On routine flights he used his plane to look for forest fires (both inside and outside the park), downed airplanes, lost hikers, etc.
The runway was also used by park visitors who would fly their planes into Tuweep and either hike or catch rides to the rim for a fantastic view of the canyon.
Knowing the airport at Tuweep like I do, I believe that it could be easily maintained and listed as an emergency strip. But I know, with a litigious society that we live in now, that this must be a consideration. I now live and fly in Idaho, where there are many back country airports on federal and state lands, some even in wilderness areas, that are used every year. These strips are used for recreation, emergencies, and just as getaway sites. This could also be the future of Tuweep.
Surely something can be worked out with state and federal agencies to reopen Tuweep. There is a great history behind this strip. It would be a shame to destroy what could be a very useful airport.