2021: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

Page High School students staged a walkout in October in protest of Larry E. Wallen, who had resigned from his position as superintendent of Page Unified School District but later gave notice that he had rescinded the resignation.

Adjusting to the new normal as the pandemic persists

Last year dawned amid hopes that COVID-19 would soon be a thing of the past, but such was not the case. 

As it turned out, 2021 was largely characterized by efforts to tread the line between trying to get back to some semblance of “normal” life on one hand, and attempts by conscientious citizens to help bring the pandemic to an end through vaccines and by maintaining safety protocols on the other hand.

The Page-Lake Powell region was, of course, heavily affected by the ongoing pandemic, but there was also plenty of other news throughout the year. Below, Lake Powell Chronicle looks back at the biggest stories from 2021, from vandalism and mass resignations at PUSD, to state championships for our high school basketball teams and the return of big events like the Balloon Regatta. 

JANUARY

The Arizona Interscholastic Association voted to cancel the 2021 winter high school sports season due to COVID-19 concerns. Four days later, on Jan. 12, the association reversed the decision and restored the seasons for boys and girls basketball, soccer and wrestling. Winter sports competitions started on Jan. 18 with cloth masks – or gaiters – mandatory for participants. 

Coconino County moved into stage 1b for COVID-19 vaccinations, including adults 75 and older, education and childcare workers, law enforcement and protective services, adults with high-risk conditions in segregated settings and essential workers.

The Chronicle reported that Buckskin Gulch was suffering vandalism under increased visitation, including mud handprints on the petroglyph panel in Wire Pass, words carved into the canyon’s walls and “an alarming amount of toilet paper and trash” scattered throughout the canyon. 

Page City Council voted to legalize recreational use of marijana after 60% of Arizonans voted in favor of Proposition 207, better known as the Smart and Safe Act, in November 2020.

The Trump administration passed a proposal to increase the number of visitors to the Wave, a world-famous geologic anomaly located in the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area. Under the decision, the number of hiking permits issued for the Wave increased from 20 to 64 people and/or 16 groups per day. This new system went into effect on Feb. 1, 2021.

Page Public Library was named a “star library” for 2020 in Library Journal’s index of Public Library Service. The index rates U.S. public libraries based on selected per capita output measures 

FEBRUARY

The Chronicle reported that the death rate in Lake Powell Country nearly tripled during the three months from November 2020 to January 2021 compared to the same period the previous year – 22 deaths compared to eight the year before. It was uncertain whether they died of coronavirus. 

The Page Unified School District announced that its schools would transition back to hybrid learning on Feb. 16. Under the hybrid model, students had the option to attend class in person or remain home and attend class virtually.

Businesses and signs around Page were spray-painted with the mysterious word “Jutce.” The Ranch House Plaza was hit the worst, with “Jutce” being painted in six different locations, including a wall that was only accessible by climbing on the roof. 

Page City Council approved a $20,000 marketing contract with Huddled Masses, which buys targeted banner ads for clients using data from cell phones and other sources. Arizona Office of Tourism’s Rural Cooperative Marketing Program contributes an additional $20,000 toward the campaign, doubling the city’s marketing power. 

MARCH

A burglar broke into Lake Powell Furniture after spending a half-hour bashing windows to gain entry. Surveillance video showed a tall, slender, pigeon-toed intruder wearing a backpack and hoodie and holding a skateboard. The thief managed to get out of the building with the whole cash register.

The Page City Council approved a property lease to Peasley Holdings LLC, which planned to open a third Grand Canyon Brewing Company in Page, adding to existing locations in Williams and Flagstaff.

Glen Canyon Outdoor Academy received a $1.25 million Arizona Charter School Program Grant for school leaders opening schools serving disadvantaged Arizona students. 

The City of Page held a groundbreaking ceremony for The Cliffs,” a 36-townhome development for short and long-term rentals. 

Under Canvas, an upscale camping experience provider, opened a luxury glamping destination near Lake Powell. 

Drew Sanders resigned as Page police chief, effective March 3. 

Salt River Project, along with demolition contractor Independence Excavating and blasting contractor Dem-tech LLC, used 1,238 pounds of explosives to demolish the three, 245-foot-tall boilers at Navajo Generating Station.

Two Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation physicians – Dr. Sophina Manheimer Calderon and Dr. Jennifer Whitehair, both of whom are Diné – were featured in the March 2021 edition of Smithsonian Magazine. The story highlighted how Diné physicians are battling the COVID-19 pandemic by combining traditional medicine and modern science.

Everyone aged 16 or older became eligible for free COVID-19 vaccines in the state of Arizona. 

Mayor Bill Diak rescinded all COVID-19 mandated restrictions for the City of Page. The move complied with Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order lifting all COVID-19 safety restrictions for Arizona. The order also stripped power from cities, town, and counties to enforce safety precautions such as mask mandates and crowd sizes at public events. Businesses, institutions and organizations retained the right to set and enforce safety policies to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

The Lady Sand Devils and Sand Devils boys varsity basketball team both came home with state championship trophies. It marked the third time in five years that the Lady Sand Devils carried home the state championship trophy, and the first time in Page High School history that the Sand Devils boys team won the state championship. 

Congressman Tom O’Halleran visited Page, with stops at Lake Powell Medical Center, Page City Hall and Navajo Generating Station, during the visit, O’Halleran introduced the National Energy Workforce and Providing Recovery Opportunities to Manage the Industry’s Shifting Economics Act, or New Promise Act.

The City of Page passed an ordinance prohibiting the use of two-wheeled shared mobility vehicles. Safety concerns guided the decision.

APRIL

The City of Page reactivated the Recognition Brick Program at the Memorial Wall in front of City Hall, including a special area dedicated for those who have died because of COVID-19.

The National Park Service reopened the east entrance to Grand Canyon’s south rim on State Route 64 on April 8. While the gate was closed since the pandemic began, the state road on both sides of the gate remained open. 

Two sculptures made of materials from Navajo Generating Station and Black Mesa & Lake Powell Railroad were installed at the entrance to Page Sports Complex. The artworks were created by Keno Zahney and Maretta Begay. 

Protesters gathered in front Page High School in response to the alarming number of resignations from the school district. The resignations were from Page High School, Desert View Intermediate and Lake View Primary. Most of the protestors blamed Superintendent Larry E. Wallen for the resignations.  

Page City Council voted unanimously to prepare the way for retail marijuana sales in Page. The move modified the Jan. 13 ordinance that required medical marijuana licenses. 

Page High School girls basketball head coach Ryan Whitehorse announced that he was resigning as Lady Sand Devils head coach and as a career and technical education teacher at the high school. Whitehorse, who is Diné, planned to return to school to obtain his master’s degree at the University of Arizona. 

MAY

Authorities arrested 38-year-old Page resident Jason Thomas Hager, aka Jason T. Bates, in coection with the fatal shooting of 49-year-old Matthew Wayne Young of Church Wells, Utah.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area announced that the Stateline Launch Ramp was closed to motorized vessels and would remain closed until further notice. The closure was attributed to revised water level projections by the Bureau of Reclamation. The ramp remained open to non-motorized vessels such as canoes, kayaks and paddleboards.

A 53-year-old man from Kaibeto was found dead at the John C. Page Memorial Park on May 17. It was the third park death in 10 months. The first death was a 50-year-old transient man found dead July 20, 2020. Authorities said a combination of alcohol and oxycodone intoxication caused the death. On Sept. 15, 2020, a 57-year-old man from Tonalea-Red Lake, Arizona, was found dead. Police said the man died from choking on food, though alcohol intoxication was a contributing factor.

An 18-year-old man died after jumping from a 75-foot cliff into Lake Powell late last week, according to the National Park Service. Apaulo Talashoma, 18, was found in the water at the Chains Day Use Area. He was pronounced dead by the Page Fire Department.

Wind damage disrupted fuel service at Dangling Rope Marina on May 21. “The fuel dock is separating from the main dock and is not safe for visitors or employees,” National Park Service officials said. The marina store, café and lift station were also closed

JUNE

U.S. Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, along with Congressman Tom O’Halleran, sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers urging approval for a plan by National Park Service and its concessionaires to implement a short-term plan to ensure that boaters were able to access the marinas at Lake Powell over Memorial Day weekend. 

Coconino County leased a wing of Tse’Yaa’To’ High School in Page to use for juvenile court services.

A 34-year-old man from Phoenix drowned on Lake Powell near Friendship Cove within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Witnesses said the victim, who was not wearing a life jacket, had slid off their rental house boat’s slide and could not swim back to the boat due to wind. 

The Page Police Department announced that Timothy Lange, who had been serving as interim chief of police since February, had been promoted to chief of police. 

 The Chronicle reported the continued resignations from Page Unified School District, with at least 61 PUSD teachers and staff quitting since March.

The Navajo Nation Council approved the reopening of eight tribal parks following the Navajo Nation’s change from “Orange” to “Yellow” safety status under COVID-19 safety protocols. These incuded Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Monument Valley Welcome Center, Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park, Four Corners Monument and Tséyi’ Diné Heritage Area, Navajo Nation Museum, Navajo Nation Veterans Memorial Park and Navajo Nation Zoo.

Canyonlands Healthcare CEO Christopher Hansen presented Page City Council with a check for $5,000 for Page Community Garden. 

The 52nd annual Western Navajo Fair, which would have taken place in October, was officially canceled due to uncertainty about the coronavirus pandemic and the Navajo Nation’s public health emergency order. 

JULY

Wayne Gustaveson retired from the Utah Department of Natural Resources after 45 years.

The COVID-19 Delta variant reached Arizona. The first case in Navajo Nation was detected on June 28.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez approved a resolution allowing Navajo Nation parks and roads to reopen to visitors under capacity limits and safety protocols.

Members of the Substance Abuse Task Force, medical professionals and city leaders persuaded Page City Council to reverse course on allowing retail marijuana sales in Page. 

Big Water Fire and Rescue were challenged by Paria house fire. Because Paria lacks water resources, firefighters had to haul water from over a mile away, and more than 20 trips were made before the fire doused.   

In response to declining water levels in Lake Powell, the National Park Service at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area initiated two projects to rehabilitate a legacy ramp in the Wahweap area and temporarily extend a launch ramp in the Bullfrog area. 

Heather S. Rutledge, a 43-year-old woman from Louisville, Kentucky, drowned in a flash flood in Labyrinth Canyon on Lake Powell.  

AUGUST

Dan Slayton, presiding judge of the Arizona Superior Court in Coconino County, was given oversight of the day-to-day operations of the Page Justice Court. 

Phil Chiang, a 49-year-old male from Palo Alto, California, drowned in the Warm Creek Bay area of Lake Powell within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. 

Wahweap Main Ramp was closed to motorized vessels beginning Aug. 16 due to low water conditions. 

Page City Council passed a motion directing the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board to work with park staff and local residents on developing a concept plan for Cedar Pocket Park within six months. 

The Navajo Department of Health issued three new Public Health Emergency Orders declaring “Orange Status” for businesses and schools, and revising in-person gathering limits for certain events in response to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Nation. 

Arizona recorded its 1 millionth COVID-19 infection. 

SEPTEMBER

Coconino Community College marked its 30th anniversary with ceremonies at its Page and Flagstaff campuses.

Jordan Blackwell Schneiman, 42, pleaded guilty to unlawful dealing by a fiduciary and pattern of unlawful activity July 1. According to the Utah Attorney General’s Office, over $1 million in funds from the bank accounts of 40 houseboats were missing or misused.

The Page Fire Department marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack by sounding sirens at 6:59 a.m. and 7:28 a.m. MST – the exact moments when the South and North Twin Towers collapsed (9:59 a.m. and 10:28 a.m. EST) on that fateful day.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, First Lady Phefelia Nez, and Second Lady Dottie Lizer joined Miss Navajo Nation 2019-2021 Shaandiin Parrish, as she crowned the 2021-2022 Miss Navajo Nation, Niagara Rockbridge of Tselani/Cottonwood and Pinon communities, during a live virtual coronation ceremony at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona. 

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area announced that the Stateline Auxiliary Ramp would partially open on Sept. 23 and fully open on Oct. 1 for all boat traffic, while the Wahweap Auxiliary Ramp would close to the public.

Joshua Brink, music teacher at Desert View Intermediate, was awarded 2021 Coconino County Teacher of the Year.

The Page Police Department and Page Fire Department responded to a report of a stabbing in LeChee. Upon arrival, the victim of the stabbing was pronounced dead and the suspect, 26-year-old Schuyler Little of LeChee, had fled the scene on foot. He was later taken into custody at Lake Powell National Golf Course.

Congressman Tom O’Halleran joined U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan and Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez on a visit to an abandoned uranium mine site in the Navajo Nation and discuss the environmental impacts of such sites with Navajo leadership.

The LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation started discussions about the proposed Red Antelope solar energy and storage project on the Navajo Nation between Page and Kaibeto. The 4,000-acre project was proposed on tribal land between Arizona Route 98 and the Black Mesa and Lake Powell Railroad.

Page City Council unanimously approved a motion to install artwork along the walkway between the City Hall parking lot and Memorial Plaza. The approved artwork, called the Boiler Tube Slot Canyon, was part of an art project initiated by Shane Jones of Salt River Project in 2019 to memorialize the soon-to-close Navajo Generating Station. 

A private aircraft crashed on the Paria Plateau area west of Page, involving one fatality and one survivor. 

A Bureau of Reclamation report showed an 88% chance that Lake Powell could fall below 3,525 feet by next August, a level that would endanger hydropower production, with chances Lake Mead would hit critical levels in the next few years.

OCTOBER

A ceremony was held at Page Memorial Plaza on Saturday to dedicate bricks purchased by local residents to honor loved ones. 

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Ranger Zachary Stuenkel received a Citation for Valor from Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland as part of the department’s annual Honor Awards Convocation.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez attended a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., as U.S. President Joe Biden signed a proclamation that restores the Bears Ears National Monument to the boundaries established by President Obama in 2016, totaling 1.36 million acres. 

The first Lake Powell UTV Fest was held in Page from Oct. 8-10, organized by UTV Offroad Adventures. The festival drew nearly 80 utility terrain vehicles (UTVs) and around 200 off-highway enthusiasts to Page for the weekend. 

State and federal officials told a U.S. Senate panel that there may be long-term solutions to the historic drought gripping the West, and the water shortages that come with it, but that the short-term outlook remained grim.

The Page Middle School Panthers eighth grade football team brought home the NAIC Championship trophy when they defeated the Kayenta Middle School Colts 12-0. The Panthers finished with an impressive nine wins and zero losses on the season. 

The Lake Powell Half Marathon was won by Steven Cornelius of Valparaiso, Florida. 

Nearly one year after the construction project began, the Page Detention Center officially opened its expanded facilities, including a dedicated video courtroom, a training conference room, additional parking and more office space.

Page High School students staged a walkout in protest of Larry Wallen, who had resigned from his position as superintendent of Page Unified School District over the weekend but later gave notice that he had rescinded the resignation. Students gathered outside the PUSD district office, chanting “kick him out” and carrying signs with slogans like “I’m the brown kid” and “Indigenous lives matter.”

A ceremony was held to officially dedicate the Grandview Overlook in Page, which opened a little over a year ago after a decades-long effort to preserve the area for public benefit. 

NOVEMBER

Around 40 friends, family members and former students, most from the Page area and others arriving from across the country, celebrated Ada Hatch’s 80th birthday at Lone Rock Beach on Oct. 30 at a lunch organized by members of the local community. 

The Balloon Regatta returned to Page after a one-year absence due to concerns about COVID-19. 

Page High School’s boys cross-country team placed second at the 3A state championship meet.

David Schmuker was re-elected to another term as mayor of Big Water, Utah. Levi Banfill and Judah Schmuker were elected to the town council.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and First Lady Phefelia Nez spoke at the White House Tribal Nations Summit about the COVID-19 pandemic on the Navajo Nation and opportunities to change federal policies to help advance infrastructure improvements for water, electricity, broadband, roads, housing and a new executive order to support missing persons initiatives. 

DECEMBER

Sand Devils fans had their first opportunity to see the Lady Sand Devils’ new coach, Celeste Claw, in action when Page hosted the Holiday Classic on Dec. 2-4. While the tournament was a steep learning curve for the Lady Sand Devils, the boys placed third.  

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released in December, Arizona’s unemployment rate continued its steady decline in October, falling to 5.2%, down a full percentage point from just two months earlier and almost one-third of the state’s pandemic high. It was the fourth straight month of a falling jobless rate for the state, even as the overall workforce continued growing. 

After a one-year hiatus, the annual Christmas Parade of Lights returned to Page with 25 entries glowing with lights of all kinds. 

GCNRA Superintendent William Schott highlighted the challenges of reopening Dangling Rope. This followed an online post by someone who identified themselves by the initials “DJA” that set off a firestorm of rumor and speculation about the fate of Dangling Rope Marina.   

Page Unified School District’s Governing Board hired Bryce Anderson to serve as the district’s interim superintendent while it searched for a permanent superintendent.

The former Navajo Generating Station, which closed in 2019, was set to become a factory for ZenniHome, a modular home company launched by former Arizona state senator Bob Worsley.

The Stanton Creek Primitive boat launch ramp on North Lake Powell was closed due to the drop in water levels, while the Bullfrog Main Spur Ramp also closed to houseboats on Dec. 20. The park anticipated that the Bullfrog Main Spur Ramp would remain viable until Jan. 3, 2022. 

Toys for Tots brought joy to hundreds of kids in the Page area as volunteers handed out 1,452 toys at First Baptist Church of Page. 

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