In a fresh approach to land conservation, the Sierra Club has partnered with ultrarunner Rob Krar to create a short film. Chasing the Distance, which premiered Tuesday, offers a peak into the lives of Krar and his wife, Christina Bauer, chronicling their strong connection with each other, and with an area of the proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument in Arizona.
"We've used inspirational videos for a while now," says Dan Chu, a director at the Sierra Club. "But focusing on ultra-endurance athletes like Rob is new territory for us, and we're excited to see where it leads."
Rob Krar, a 10-year resident of Flagstaff, Arizona, started running the trails in and around the Grand Canyon in 2009. In 2014, he won the Leadville 100 and the Western States 100, and repeated at Western States in 2015. He currently holds the fastest known time for single (rim to rim) and double (rim to rim to rim) crossings of the Grand Canyon. "The land surrounding the Grand Canyon is really special for Christina and I — to be able to escape to a place with so few people, to sleep under the stars, to be able to run through old-growth Ponderosa pine forest and stark red sandstone in one outing — it's just incredible."
The proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument encompasses 1.7 million acres of visually spectacular land, mostly on the north side of the Grand Canyon, a haven for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, camping, hunting, and fishing. Besides the recreational value, the land is important — for natural resources, as well as religious and cultural significance — to at least 11 Native American groups, including the Kaibab Paiute, the Navajo Nation, and the Hopi, Zuni, Hualapai, and Havasupai tribes.
The land is also a rich source of information about human history. More than 3,000 Native American archaeological sites have been documented within the proposed national monument. "There is evidence that this region has been fully occupied by humans for at least 10,000 years," says Kimberly Spurr, an archaeologist based in Flagstaff.
The biggest threat to these lands is pollution from uranium mining, which has already contaminated both groundwater and surface-water sources (including those used for drinking water). To that effect, in 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar ordered a 20-year ban on new uranium claims on public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon, which protected two-thirds of the lands included in the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument from new mines. But the Sierra Club says it's not enough. "There have been repeated attempts to roll it back, and it's not a permanent moratorium," says Sandy Bahr, the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter Director. Currently, both the National Mining Association and Nuclear Energy Institute are suing to block the ban in federal court.
The Sierra Club hopes Chasing the Distance will inspire viewers to sign an online petition asking President Obama to designate the area as a national monument, protecting it permanently. Krar, who reveals in the film that running is his major coping mechanism for clinical depression, says that protecting the land where he runs is more than just good environmental stewardship, it's personal. "I find peace with the Grand Canyon."