If this plan can gain the approval of visitors, the National Park Service and Rep. Tom McClintock, it must be a good one.
Anytime someone suggests changes in how Yosemite National Park is managed and cared for, it is bound to be controversial. That’s why it took 14 years to craft a compromise. Amazingly, virtually everyone is on board for the plan presented by the Park Service this week. Somehow, the agency has produced a plan that mollifies critics on all sides. That it comes on the park’s 150th anniversary year is even better.
Most important, the plan will protect the wild and scenic Merced River while cutting traffic congestion on the valley floor and still add parking spaces behind Yosemite Lodge. Many of the park’s visitors drive through Merced if they approach the valley from the south and through Escalon and Oakdale when coming from the north.
That could be especially important this year. The park normally draws from 3.5 million to 4 million visitors each year. This being the 150th anniversary of the park – which was created by President Abraham Lincoln – this could be a record-setting year. The park could see 4.5 million visitors, which would shatter the all-time record.
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Those who choose to visit America’s most treasured park will find some changes. Under the plan announced last week:
• The historic Sugar Pine stone bridge built in 1928 will stay put.
• The number of campsites in Yosemite Valley will increase by more than a third to 640, though campsites within 100 feet of the river will be removed.
• The Curry Village ice skating rink will be moved out of the river corridor and re-established as a seasonal use in the original historic 1929 location.
• Raft rentals will be limited to 100 boats per day, and boat storage moved outside the river corridor.
• Horse rentals will be moved out of Yosemite Valley to Wawona, a less crowded location. This might cause some heartburn for those who like to ride from the valley floor to Emerald Lake, but overall it will improve the experience of those who prefer not to or from the lake via the Mist Trail.
• Bike rentals will be moved away from the river, but they’ll still be in the valley. An earlier version of the plan had them out of the valley as well, a bone of contention during the extended battle over the changes.
Some of those changes had so angered McClintock, that last year he recommended the Park Service should hang a sign reading “Tourists go home.” He told the San Jose Mercury News last week that the new plan was “a relief.”
Though the guideline for maximum number of visitors in Yosemite Valley will remain at 20,100 per day, remote parking with shuttle service will be increased, relieving traffic. Retail outlets will be consolidated. Better yet, 189 acres of meadows in the valley will be restored.
The Park Service listened to the more than 30,000 people who commented, and crafted appropriate compromises.
Yosemite Valley will be a better experience for the American people because of the public process, removal of congestion and clutter, and restoration of the river corridor. That’s something to celebrate for the 150th anniversary.