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Phone lines in the Grand Canyon are being removed to improve aviation safety


In the mid-1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps installed a network of telephone lines in the Grand Canyon along the Colorado River.

BETSY AURNOU: It was this huge, ambitious undertaking.


Nearly a hundred years later, park ranger Betsy Aurnou is tearing down 18 miles of wires because they're a hazard for search and rescue helicopters. But her attention at first was not on the sky. It was on the ground.

AURNOU: Because a bighorn ram got caught in some wires on the Bright Angel Trail, and he died. He strangled in the wires.

MARTIN: So Aurnou started picking up fallen wires.

AURNOU: And they're just strewn across the ground. They're tangled in the vegetation. They're dangling from poles.

MARTIN: Aurnou uses bolt cutters to snip wires from the telephone poles.

AURNOU: It was really dramatic. You know, the wire makes this great, like, whooshing and zinging sound as it goes.

MARTÍNEZ: For pilots, that's the sound of safety. Jeremiah Boyd is an aviation officer for Grand Canyon National Park.

JEREMIAH BOYD: Just knowing that we don't have to worry about wires in that area, and it allows the pilots to be able to adapt and get into some of those areas where the wires were much more easily.

MARTIN: And her unique job assignment is also improving the views.

AURNOU: It is really nice to see just nature, just the sky.

MARTIN: Aurnou's work is being honored with the prestigious Wright Brothers National Aviation Safety Award from the National Park Service. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.