Tribe officials reveal 2-year process to approve Wallenda's Grand Canyon stunt

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by Jared Dillingham

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azfamily.com

Posted on March 18, 2013 at 9:58 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 20 at 10:42 AM

PHOENIX -- Daredevil Nik Wallenda plans to make history by walking a tightrope across the Grand Canyon in June.

Navajo Indian Nation leaders say the project has been in the works for the past two years.

When Wallenda's team approached the tribe about the stunt, officials were both excited and apprehensive.

"Opportunities like this don't come around very often," said Erny Zah with the Navajo president's office. "But we also had to make sure our lands remain as pristine as they can be and cultural sites would be unharmed."

Zah said months of archeological, biological and cultural studies were conducted before the tribe gave final approval to Wallenda.

Wallenda plans to walk a 2-inch-wide wire over the span from a spot 15 miles west of Cameron, Ariz.

Tribal officials describe the site as "remote." They say there are no roads and limited facilities. Wallenda's team has been given approval to build a small temporary "town" on the edge of the canyon.

The drop to the Little Colorado River below would be around 1,500 feet, about the height of the Empire State Building.

While Wallenda wore a safety harness while crossing Niagara Falls, he will not wear one over the Grand Canyon. He discussed the risks with the tribe.

"He made it clear to us that this is his profession and that he's very confident about the safety measures he needs to ensure a successful walk," Zah explained.

A crowd of 100,000 showed up on both sides of Niagara Falls in 2012, but because the canyon site is so remote, viewing options will be limited.

"This is undeveloped land," Zah said. "There's no sidewalks or asphalt and no fence to protect you from looking over the edge or anything like that."

A smaller viewing area will be set up at a nearby viewpoint, along with a Jumbotron.

Navajo leaders say the tribe is not getting paid to host the stunt, but under an agreement Wallenda and the production crews will rehab roads and facilities in the area.

Crews are expected to begin work in the area in mid-April to prepare for the June 23 event.

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