Guest Commentary by Max Stauffer –
The Merced River Plan has many elements that will drastically affect the way in which visitors will be able to access and enjoy traditional recreational activities.
The National Park Service has presented its “preferred alternative” which calls for removing the swimming pools at Yosemite Lodge and the Ahwahnee Hotel, removing bicycle rentals, day horse- back rides, raft rentals, the 80 year old Curry Village ice rink, and the tennis courts at the Wawona Hotel. In addition, the plan calls for an arbitrarily set “visitor capacity” and removal of the historic Sugar Pine Bridge.The Plan is based on litigation that ordered a “user capacity” to be determined according to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Merced River was designated wild and scenic in 1987. The River has three different components. The “recreational” component is the section that flows through most of Yosemite Valley.
The Congressional intent of the Act was to prevent construction of Dams along the designated River. It does not mandate changing any existing functions such as campgrounds, bridges and does not preclude rafting, or any of the other traditional recreational opportunities that existed prior to the 1987 designation. Since it is deemed “recreational”, the current and traditional river uses and other uses near the river comply with this intent.
The National Park Service has elected to assign a user capacity that is just less than the largest number that was seen during the 2011 summer. This will have the effect of eventually limiting the number of visitors and necessitating a day use reservation system.
Some parking additions have been planned, but not nearly the numbers that were historically in place and available to the public. The Plan reflects numbers which when compared with an artificial “base line” gives one the impression that there is a real increase, when in fact there is not. The same goes for campgrounds. The Plan shows an increase, but in fact it is based on post 1997 flood numbers. After the 1997 flood, 40% of the approximately 900 campsites were not rebuilt.
There are two other plans in process of being implemented. The Tuolumne River Plan and the Mariposa Grove Plan. Taken in totality, the three plans restrict recreation, restrict access and will no doubt have a profound effect on how visitation will be allowed.
There is a trend towards “social injustice” that can’t be overlooked. Yosemite is moving toward an elitist park, only available to those with the means to visit with their own equipment and will mostly cater to those who want to hike or backpack. Opportunities that have been enjoyed by generations will be eliminated.
The intent of the Yosemite Grant signed by President Lincoln in 1864 is being disregarded. The Act authorized a grant to the state of California that included Yosemite Valley and the land “embracing” the Mariposa Big Tree Grove. Lincoln said “That the premises shall be held for public use, resort and recreation”. This is the foundational document that leads to Yosemite becoming a National Park.
The National Park Service has forgotten that the park belongs to the people. They have forgotten that diverse recreation available to all is essential to a quality visitor experience. They have forgotten what President Lincoln envisioned and what the people deserve. Ironically, this Merced River Plan will fall on the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant.
“Every opportunity should be afforded the public, wherever possible, to enjoy the national parks in the manner that best satisfies the individual taste”. This is a quote from the Secretary of the Interior to the National Park Service Director Stephen Mather in 1918. This guiding principle, almost a century old, has also been disregarded.
You must make your voice heard! Without public outcry, average families will lose the very recreational opportunities that help provide the most rewarding visitor experiences. “Limits” will be the new standard for Park policy. Send your comments to the National Park Service AND your US Senator and Congressman.
Max Stauffer is the owner of the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad and president of the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau.