Wallenda to walk tightrope over Little Colorado Sunday

Discovery Channel to air event live, NBC paves road to Little Colorado River Tribal and builds new parking lot

Wallenda practices his balance at Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park in May.

Wallenda practices his balance at Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park in May.

CAMERON, Ariz. -- Navajo Nation Park Manager Helen Webster and world-famous tightrope walker Nik Wallenda each have a dream.

But little did they know the dreams of a park ranger and tightrope walker would overlap and connect them to each other.

Webster is a park manager for Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park, which oversees the Little Colorado River Gorge on the western outskirts of the Navajo reservation. Located just off the beaten path, it is a haven of solace that Mother Nature uniquely sculpted.

Wallenda is a non-Navajo from Sarasota, Fla.

Webster began working for the park in February 2006. It was never part of her goals in her life to work for the Navajo Nation, but she believes everything happens for a reason.

Webster said she had to start from scratch to get the park off the ground. She said her first major project was to establish a fee booth, which she accomplished in just four months. Her vision then, and now, is to have state-of-the-art infrastructure and buildings to create an accommodating atmosphere for visitors.

"Despite all the challenges and obstacles, I really enjoy my job. My goal is to provide quality customer service--I want our visitors to enjoy their visit here at the Little Colorado Gorge," Webster said.

Through the years, Webster worked to help install an entrance fee station, improve fencing, install picnic tables, develop a hiking trail, and install signs and waterless restrooms. She never lost hope that her dream of building a paved parking area would come true.

Then a location scout named PJ Connolly introduced Webster and Wallenda. The "King of the High-Wire" wanted to fulfill a life-long dream and walk across a deep canyon without a harness. Wallenda marveled at the towering walls of the Little Colorado River Gorge and thought it was the perfect location to honor his great grandfather Karl Wallenda, who died after falling from a tightrope in Puerto Rico in 1978.

Wallenda became captivated by the rustic and mystic beauty of the Navajo Nation and viewed the Little Colorado as the ideal place to achieve his ambition. It will be the highest walk he has attempted yet.

Webster saw the tightrope walk as the opportunity of a lifetime.

Although she was concerned about the limited infrastructure and how to pull off an event of this magnitude, her staff rose to the occasion and agreed to work with Wallenda to make his dream come true.

Land clearances took 10 months to complete, including getting consent from local land users, and a biological, environmental and archaeological survey.

"We are very honored and pleased that Nik Wallenda has selected the Navajo Nation as a location to help him achieve his life-long goal," Park Manager Martin L. Begaye said, "Hosting an event of this caliber requires a lot of pre-production planning and approval. As stewards of our land, we are working cooperatively with many different individuals and entities to ensure that we also preserve and protect our natural resources so that future generations will continue to enjoy our native homeland."

NBC hired a contactor and made Webster's dream come true by paving a road to the site and paving a parking lot for the media.

"I have been praying for improvements to the Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park ever since I started," Webster said. "I had no idea NBC would be able to pay for a new road and parking lot for us. This is what you call a miracle."

Begaye agreed.

"We have always wanted to make major improvements at Little Colorado River Tribal Park, but were unable to do so due to limited funding," Begaye added. "We are very grateful to NBC for helping the Navajo Nation."

Geraldine Camarillo, media representative, said the Discovery Channel began video production in April to promote the majestic beauty of the Navajo Nation.

The video will feature interviews with various Navajo leaders and distinguished Navajo people and will showcase tribal parks. Local Navajo entertainers will perform at a nearby location. About 600 people will watch the event on a jumbotron. Because of limited space, organizers encourage the public to view the event on the Discovery Channel.

Webster said after the event is over, she would like to see the paved area as a new way to promote the Little Colorado River Gorge.

"It is amazing to know just how many people throughout the world will be able to catch a glimpse of our beautiful Navajo culture," Webster said. "After they see the video, I hope they will want to visit the Navajo Nation."

More information about this event is available from the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department at (928) 871-6647 or www.navajonationparks.org.

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