MARIPOSA — Emphasizing that visitor safety remains their top priority, tourism officials of gateway communities in Madera and Mariposa counties are nonetheless voicing concern over planned new restricted access to Yosemite National Park.
“On May 18, Yosemite National Park leadership shared its draft reopening strategy with the region’s gateway communities. The proposal would limit daily access to 3,600 vehicles, 1,700 day-use passes … and another 1,900 passes for those with overnight reservations within the park,” said a joint press release issued by Visit Yosemite | Madera County and Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau.
“While the plan outlined by Park Service leadership is portrayed as adjustable and flexible, some local business leaders have expressed concerns that there is no commitment to a timetable to reassess the plan and lift restrictions to Yosemite National Park as health concerns are reduced,” the release also stated.
Local tourism officials are further concerned that the proposed park entry day use reservation system will be continued even after health risks are eliminated.
Park officials have already announced that shuttle service in Yosemite, critical for dispersing visitors around the park, will not operate in 2020.
The proposed plan is seen by local business leaders as too conservative when it comes to how many vehicles can enter the park each day. The park service has indicated that they intend to have about 50 percent of an average June day number of visitors. However, the purchase of an advance reservation, visitation to other parts of the park, and no-shows will reduce the actual number of vehicles in the Valley well below that number.
In the new reopening plan for Yosemite, entrance passes will now need to be secured at least 48 hours to 30 days in advance.
Long lead reservations and same day arrival visits to Yosemite National Park have been temporarily halted.
Many long-distance and international visitors to Yosemite make year-in-advance bookings for camping and other lodgings. Under new restrictions, visitors will no longer have the same access, especially if they are staying at a gateway hotel outside of the National Park.
“While we appreciate the efforts the Park Service has made, the limited number of day-use vehicle entries into the park are based on very conservative evaluations of the existing figures,” explained Rhonda Salisbury, CEO of Visit Yosemite | Madera County. “Being safe, while also still being respectful of the local economy is what we hope to achieve in partnership with the National Park Service.”
”Safety is our number one concern, for NPS, concession staff and the public,” said Jonathan Farrington, executive director of Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau. “Creating a revised COVID-19 operating plan for a park which sees four million visitors annually is not a simple task. However, the draft plan is filled with unknowns. Our effort here is to work with the Park Service to have a clear path forward through the various stages of recovery that support the gateway communities.”
Yosemite welcomes visitors with more than 800 miles of open trails and wide-open vistas. Ninety-four percent of the park is designated wilderness area. Understandably, high traffic areas will need to be monitored, however, social distancing is easily achievable in a location such as Yosemite National Park. The businesses in Yosemite’s gateway communities are ready to work toward solutions in partnership with National Park Service leaders.