Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Wheelchair access is part of $24 million Mariposa Grove facelift

A reader wrote to me about my Sunday story on the rehabilitation of Yosemite National Parks’ Mariposa
Grove, expressing disappointment about the lack of wheelchair access.

“Again, the Yosemite restoration program is NOT for people. For the last decades, the environmentalists have ruined
the pleasure of Yosemite for the public. Now the grove will be RUINED for those who cannot walk. We are disgusted.”

The story was mainly about nature, the removal of paved roads and generally a reduction in the human footprtint around magnificent giant sequoias.

I am sorry I did not find room to simply say that the plan provides “universal accessibility.” For some readers, I missed a key part of the story.

Park leaders will make accommodations, such as parking areas, for people who have mobility issues, according to the plan. Here’s a quote:

“Visitors with vehicles displaying accessible parking placards or NPS service vehicles would drive through the lower Grove area to the Grizzly Giant. Several pullouts would be installed to allow these visitors to stop and view individual sequoias or groups of sequoias such as the Bachelor and Three Graces.

“Accessible parking spaces would be available at the lower Grove area and Grizzly Giant for visitors with accessible
parking placards, and the existing vault toilet would be relocated to the Grizzly Giant parking area. The
shuttle originating at the South Entrance would continue to be available to visitors with limited mobility.”

In other words, the plan attempts to address the needs of people who have range of limited mobility issues,
including wheelchairs. I urge anyone who has further doubts or concerns to read the plan and contact Yosemite.

Mariposa Grove and the pileated woodpecker

At the Mariposa Grove, a tourist pointed out something I had never seen in Yosemite National Park — a pileated woodpecker.  Bee photographer Craig Kohlruss snapped a picture of it.

We were in Yosemite to research a story about the Mariposa Grove, where about 500 mature giant sequoias live. The graceful scenes were everywhere, but the pileated woodpecker stole the show.

This is a big, eye-catching bird. It looked like the size of a crow — black with bold white stripes down the neck and a flaming-red crest.

The bird was pounding at the base of a white fir tree, making little pieces of wood fly. A few people stopped and took photos, but nothing distracted this woodpecker. Someone told me it was hunting for carpenter ants. I couldn’t really see what it was doing.

It has been a while since I had visited the Mariposa Grove, which is near the South Entrance and Highway 41. I’ll have to get back there again soon.

Dramatic fire season, but certainly not the nation’s biggest in a decade

About a month ago, misguided headlines announced 2013 as a sensationally big fire season nationally — some called it the worst season in a decade. As the Rim fire burns in California, I’ve heard the statement made on television.

The Rim fire on a media stage in California

The season has been filled with drama, but it’s not the biggest in a decade nationally. Check it on the National Interagency Fire Center web site.

Total fires  and acres burned are both well below the 10-year average. At this rate, the season won’t even match last year.

National Public Radio got it right on Aug. 15 with a story titled: 2013 wildfire season proving to be more mild than wild.

That was two days before the Rim fire started. The Rim is an expensive, sprawling blaze. California, indeed, is having bad fire year, according to Cal Fire. But California hasn’t change the national numbers in a big way.

At the same time, it is still a truly dramatic wildfire year.

The Rim fire in Stanislaus National Forest is one of California’s biggest wildfires on record. It is burning around and in Yosemite National Park.  In Arizona, 19 firefighters tragically died in a fierce wildfire. Many homeowners have been in harm’s way as fires have burned this year.

But, unless there’s a lot more burning in the next several weeks, 2013 will not go down nationally as the most extensive wildfire season in a decade — or even the last few years.

Yosemite Conservancy to help restore damaged areas in Rim fire

The Yosemite Conservancy is raising money to restore damage from the Rim fire, which has charred more than 200,000 acres of wildland in the Stanislaus National Forest and part of Yosemite National park.

The conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and improving Yosemite, will use donations to help restore trails, facilities and natural habitat in the region.

“We anticipate that significant work will be needed to restore areas affected in the park once the heroic efforts of firefighters are completed,” said conservancy president Mike Tollefson.

Donations to the Yosemite Fire Restoration Fund can be made online at or by mailing a contribution to Yosemite Conservancy, Yosemite Fire Restoration Fund, 101 Montgomery, Suite 1700, San Francisco, CA 94104.

To view areas of the park, visit Yosemite Conservancy’s webcams at

 Most of Yosemite remains open, smoke free and accessible three entrances — Highway 41, fhe south entrance, and Highway 140, a western entrance, and the east entrance at Tioga Pass. Highway 120 remains closed from the west.

Up-to-date information about the Rim Fire is on the park’s website at:

Yosemite’s Merced River plan delayed again

Yosemite National Park‘s long-running effort to finish a protection plan for the Merced River just got a little longer.

The U.S. District Court in Fresno Thursday granted a delay in the controversial plan until Dec. 31. It was supposed to be completed by July 31 — a date set by a previous request for a delay. Yosemite needs time to process more than 30,000 comments received this year on the draft.

The National Park Service and the activist groups late Wednesday filed papers to push off the deadline, which adds time to an effort that already is more than a decade old. This is the third version of the plan since 2000. Previous versions were struck down by federal courts.

The current plan is a result of a lawsuit settlement between activists and the Park Service in 2009.

Park Service leaders say they are not reopening the comment period on the controversial plan, as business leaders and many others had hoped. Many had pushed hard this year to reopen the process because they opposed removing the ice rink at Curry Village and several other amenities.

The plan was attacked earlier this month in a hearing before the House of Representatives. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, led a Republican charge to leave the amenities untouched.

He termed the plan “exclusionary and elitist,” and asked, if facilities are removed from Yosemite Valley, “where does a dad go to get ice cream for a kid on a hot summer’s day?”

Activist groups, including Friends of Yosemite Valley and Mariposans for the Environment and Responsible Government, also want to negotiate the content of the draft. They and the Park Service are asking for time for that negotiation.

There were no specifics in court documents about the activists’ concerns.


After hantavirus deaths, NPS should review tent cabin changes, report says

Federal investigators have recommended a National Park Service review of any design changes in tent cabins after three deaths last year during a hantavirus outbreak at Yosemite National Park.

Several hantavirus cases were diagnosed after people spent the night at Curry Village in newer tent cabins with a double-wall construction. Investigation showed infected mice nested between the walls.

The tent cabins were shut down last year after the outbreak was discovered.

There have been reports that the tent cabins were torn down and replaced with the old, single-wall version. But Yosemite officials were not immediately available to confirm the reports.

The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General investigated last summer’s outbreak and last week reported that park officials responded appropriately in accordance with policy.

At least eight of the nine tourists who fell ill stayed in the newer tent cabins, which are operated by the private concessionaire, Delaware North Parks and Resorts.

The concessionaire had added rafters and wall studs to the tent cabins. Park Service policy did not require park leaders to approve the design changes because they were considered routine maintenance.

Yosemite would grow by 1,600 acres

Yosemite National park would grow by 1,600 acres under a bill introduced Tuesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

The bill would allow the National Park Service to buy the Mariposa County land through an existing program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The land was originally part of Yosemite, but Congress stripped its protection in a 1906 concession to industrial interests. The land is near a development called Yosemite West and reportedly was part of naturalist John Muir’s original plan for Yosemite.

“This is a great day for Yosemite,” said Nathan Weaver with Environment California. “We applaud work by California’s leaders to preserve and strengthen one of the most beautiful places in California and the world.”

The current landowners, Pacific Forest Trust and a partnership of private individuals, support the land transfer. And a coalition of state leaders supports expanding Yosemite. The California State Senate passed a resolution last week to show support for expansion.

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.

Backlash against new Merced River Plan in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park has extended the deadline for public comment on the embattled Merced River Plan , but not for the 90 days sought by some business leaders and a federal lawmaker.

The park has extended the public comment period from April 18 to April 30 so more people can have their say. Park leaders say they already have 25,000 comments.

In the last several weeks, there has been a backlash over the environmental protections in the plan, which is the third proposal that the park has written in the last dozen years or so.

The previous renditions failed to pass muster in federal court, partly because they didn’t specify a limit on visitors to the river in the heart of Yosemite Valley.

The new proposal — three years in the making and thousands of pages long — limits visitors to 19,900 on busy days and specifies removal of  some facilities, such as the Curry Village ice skating rink.

Yosemite leaders released the plan for public comment in January, adding 40 days to the usual 60-day comment period. Now they’ve added another 12 days.

Some business and tourism leaders outside the park had complained about the plan limiting recreation. They asked for 90 more days to comment.

In the last week, they got support from Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove. McClatchy reporter Michael Doyle in Washington, D.C., posted a twitter item last week about it, linking to McClintock’s letter to Yosemite about it. He said he is troubled by the proposed closure of  “bike rental facilities, snack stands, swimming pools, tennis courts, retail stores and horse stables.”

In joining the campaign to extend the comment period, McClintock says:

“It defies logic that NPS is proposing to close these facilities not because they degrade the Merced River, but instead because in NPS’s eyes, these longstanding facilities do not benefit the River.  What about the benefits that the American public will lose under NPS’s proposal?”

Yosemite will begin Tioga assessment Monday

It’s balmy in the San Joaquin Valley, but it’s still winter above 8,000 feet in the Sierra. Yosemite National Park on Monday will begin to assess the snow covering high country Tioga Road in preparation for plowing.

Each spring, the reopening of this road is anxiously awaited by businesses on both sides of the mountain, as well as many thousands of tourists.

In many years, it is open by Memorial Day, but not always. The earliest the road has opened in the last few decades has been April 29 in 1988, which was a drought year in California.

Will the road be open before that date? Nobody knows, says park spokeswoman Kari Cobb. She says crews on snowmobiles will take a couple of days to assess avalanche danger and snow conditions. Then park leaders will decide when the plowing begins.

By all accounts, it was a dry winter in the Sierra, but some places had more snow than others. The watershed for Yosemite’s two main rivers — the Tuolumne and the Merced — got a little more than half the usual snowfall. But the snowpack above 8,000 feet is 70% of average.

“There’s a lot of interest in the reopening,” Cobb said. “We will get updates on our web site as often as possible.”

The California Department of Transportation has cleared the road above the east-side community of Lee Vining all the way to the Tioga Pass entrance station, she said.