Yosemite National Park is not only one of the most beautiful places on earth, but also seemingly a magnet for controversy and just plain crazy happenings.
The latest is a flap this week over the awful prospect that Starbucks might move its mighty presence into this wonderful pristine unspoiled natural setting. Yes, those words drip with sarcasm, because Yosemite on any given summer day is about as secluded and serene as a trip to the mall during the holidays.
The petition going around (10,000 signatures at recent tally) says “Multinational corporations have no place in our National Parks. The opening of a Starbucks in Yosemite Valley opens the door to further undue development. The Park will lose its essence, making it hardly distinguishable from a chaotic and bustling commercial city.”
Really? The fact that it will be placed in a shop and restaurant arcade owned by a Fortune 200 company, Aramark, somehow defiles the peaceful setting?
And all we really wanted was a decent cup of coffee, as opposed to the rather insipid stuff I have been served in the park on recent visits.
Flap No. 2 centers on cell phones. It seems the park superintendent quietly solicited bids for another six cell towers to be located around the park. We have had cell service in Yosemite Valley for as long as I have been carrying a cell phone. There is nothing new here. The fact that service might be enhanced apparently troubles some folks. The comments going around say that even on remote hiking trails folks will be yakking away as if they were, well, walking around in the shopping mall.
I’m a pretty serious and committed hiker in the park, and I don’t recall noticing folks talking on cell phones on the trails. Frankly, the typical Yosemite trail is generally headed up or down and you need to save your breath for the hike, not for the talk.
And if I were ever truly lost in the mountains, on any trail, whether in a national park or just in the wilderness, a cell phone would be a great asset to have in my possession – as long as it had service. (Though I have never understood how you can be lost in the Sierra. Just carry matches. If you get lost build a monster fire in a cleared area and throw lots of green brush on it. You will soon have more rescuers than you can imagine.)
Another issue that came up this year has to do with driving in the national park in snowy conditions. California mountain highways require chains in heavy snow conditions, but when the snowfall is fairly light the requirement is simply “Four wheel drive with snow tires.”
Not so in the park. You can four-wheel it all the way to the front gate, but at that point you must at least be carrying chains. It would be a shame to have a comfortable drive up in your four-wheel drive SUV, only to be turned away due to lack of carrying required equipment. In fact, in moderate conditions the installation of chains might not be required in the park but possession is still mandatory. (I carry an old obsolete set in my rig, that likely would not fit anything, but hey, I am still carrying and complying!)
Finally, people ask me on a regular basis, “Will we ever get our names back? Ahwahnee? Camp Curry?” And of course the answer is, “Well, we can hope.”
But, remember, this fiasco lays right at the doorstep of the National Park Service, and there is only faint hope they will get anything right.
Finally, people often ask, “What is the best time to go to Yosemite?”
My answer is always, “Any day that you can be in Yosemite is the best day of the year.”
Dick Hagerty, an Oakdale real estate developer active in non-profits. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.