Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Former lawmaker Coelho opposes Merced River Plan

A voice from the past has joined the backlash against the National Park Service’s plan to protect the Merced River in Yosemite Valley.

Tourism and business leaders in communities, such as Oakhurst, around Yosemite National Park are opposing the proposal, which would remove an ice-skating rink, a bicycle rental business and a few other amenities.

Now former Congressman Tony Coelho, who wrote an amendment to include the Merced River in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) , is opposing the removal of the amenities, saying the law was only intended to include the Merced River outside of Yosemite National Park to the west.

Coelho, once a powerful Democrat based in Merced, wrote a letter saying Yosemite Valley should not be considered wilderness. “Yosemite Valley should be left as it is,” he wrote.

The public comment period ends April 30 on the long-debated Merced River Plan, which has been in and out of court for the last decade. Park leaders have spent the last three years rewriting the plan to comply with court orders and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Yosemite visitor totals dropped slightly last year

Looking over the visitor totals for Yosemite National Park last year, I realized there was news that I had not written — there were fewer people.

In 2011, 4,098,648 visited Yosemite, according to the National Park Service. In 2012, the figure was slightly down — 3,996,017.

Even so, 2012 will go down as the park’s third biggest year since 1996.

Yosemite’s totals fell off noticeably in 1997 after the big January flood inundated Yosemite Valley, closing the park and triggering years of lower numbers. The total didn’t climb back over 4 million until 2010.

How about this year? The big crowds get bigger when the famous waterfalls are huge in May and June. A few snowstorms and a fatter snowpack could make that happen.

Yosemite Lodge probably won’t be torn down, readers say

Tearing down the venerable Yosemite Lodge is not likely to happen in the National Park Service’s actions to protect the Merced River.

That’s what callers and emailers are saying today after I mentioned the possibility in my column on the Merced River Plan, which is supposed to be completed some time next year.

The removal of the lodge is just part of one preliminary concept from the National Park Service. Nobody is serious about it, some said.

A few readers added that they doubted that the Curry Village Ice Rink would be closed — another concept in the preliminary options that I mentioned.

Apologies to anyone who might have read this as a done deal. I would only point out that these ideas really are among the proposals, and I found it interesting.

I wrote the item only to raise awareness, and I didn’t couch it quite right. Next time, I’ll tweet it.

Merced River Plan story will re-emerge in Yosemite Valley

The outbreak of dreaded hantavirus dominated the news from Yosemite National Park over the last few months, leaving the important Merced River Plan a distant second this year.

But after years of legal action and failed attempts at finishing this plan, it again will be in a spotlight, possibly as early as next month.

We’re talking about the removal of Yosemite Lodge, Curry Village Ice Rink and changes in major valley campgrounds. Trust me, you will notice.

The actions are part of the National Park Service’s proposed plan to protect and manage the Merced River, which runs through the heart of Yosemite Valley. The draft plan will be released sometime between November and the early part of next year.

Among the things I mentioned earlier, the plan is expected to set some limit on the number of folks who can be in this outdoor paradise. There are hundreds of thousands of people who pass through the valley each year

Outdoor paradise is no exaggeration if you’re talking about the views surrounding this seven square mile valley. People see Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall and a host of other granite features along the glacially carved cliffs.

If you haven’t followed the plan’s formation closely over the last three years, there is a pretty tall pile of documents you’d need to read for all the detail.

For a short version, go to this site and read the presentation that was part of the Aug. 2 public meeting about it. If you visit Yosemite Valley in summer, you really need to look at this.

The park service will take comment on the draft proposal. Federal leaders expect to have a final version sometime in 2013.