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.
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 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?”
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.
American Way, the in-flight magazine of American Airlines, published an article in the current issue advising travelers to visit Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite national parks in a three-day trip.
“Ring Around the Mountain” highlights the “Majestic Mountain Loop” starting in Visalia, going through Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, then the Oakhurst area and Yosemite National Park.
Two photos illustrate the article showing giant sequoia trees in snow and Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.
The piece is the result of a marketing effort by the Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau, Fresno Yosemite International Airport and the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau.
It’s producing results, said Danika Heatherly, tourism manager at the Visalia CVB.
“We have had about 20 visitor calls in the last few days,” she said. Many were from international visitors seeking to adjust their plans to take in the three parks, she said.
The article is here.
An 8-year-old Fresno girl and her father will take a hike this summer in Yosemite National Park to raise awareness about the campaign to restore Hetch Hetchy Valley — a glacially sculpted masterpiece covered with 117 billion gallons of water.
Young Allison and her father, Tom Cotter, have stepped into an iconic environmental fight over a vast Yosemite feature that has been used most of the last century to store water for San Francisco.
We could fill several of these blog columns with just the headlines about the fight over Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. In 1913, pioneering conservationist John Muir lost his desperate fight to save the valley. He died the following year.
For the last several years, the nonprofit advocacy group Save Hetch Hetchy has organized hikes around the valley to push the campaign and raise money.
Called Muir’s March, the summertime event this year will include several guided backpacking journeys concluding on Aug. 3 at O’Shaunessy Dam. For those who don’t want to backpack, there’s a 6-mile day hike on Aug. 3.
Allison and her father have started a web site to collect donations.
The big federal budget cuts — known as sequestration — might delay the reopening of Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park this spring, the National Park Service says.
That could take a bite out of the tourist business along the Eastern Sierra. If the road is closed, hordes of Yosemite tourists can’t drive out 9,945-foot Tioga Pass to Lee Vining, Bridgeport and Mammoth Lakes.
Tioga Road, the key east-west artery across the Sierra in this part of the range, is closed after the first significant snow in autumn. Often, it reopens by Memorial Day. On big snowfall years, such as 2011, 2005 and 1998, the snow plows are working well into June.
But this is not one of those years. The Sierra snowpack is 62% of average right now. Yosemite’s high country might be a little more or a little less, but it is not high enough to worry about 20-foot snow drifts in early June.
One of the sadder stories I have covered in Yosemite was the death of a snow plow operator in mid-June 1995. His bulldozer was crushed by a huge slab of ice that broke loose and slid down the slippery granite at Olmsted Point in the high country.
Since then, there has been an abundance of caution when plowing the snow from this road.
This year, the reopening could be complicated if the Sierra is hit with late March and April snowstorms. But if the spring melt gets going early, the delay from the sequester may not be a big problem.
Folks on the Eastern Sierra stay pretty close to this issue. For updates, check here for Twitter and here for Facebook. Yosemite’s updates on Tioga and Glacier Point road openings can be found here.
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 National Park has a $15 million plan to make Mariposa Grove and its 484 mature giant sequoias a healthier place for the big trees, moving asphalt and structures away from their extensive roots.
Read the draft environmental documents and comment to the National Park Service by May 7.
The plan, which will be funded by the Yosemite Conservancy, is to rip out the lower parking lot and gift shop to get them off the widespread, shallow root system of the giants.
Most parking will be moved two miles away to the South Entrance, where shuttle buses will give visitors a free lift to the trees.
The Park Service wants to kick off the facelift in time to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the grove’s protection in a federal law signed by Abraham Lincoln. The anniversary will be in June 2014.
“It was landmark legislation,” said restoration ecologist Sue Beatty, who is working on the project.
The work here is reminiscent of the makeover in Giant Forest during the 1990s when Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks removed many buildings to protect the trees.
Most of the remaining 75 groves in the world are located in the southern Sierra at Sequoia-Kings or in the Sequoia National Monument. They are considered the world’s largest tree with a life span of more than 2,000 years.
The Mariposa Grove is the largest of Yosemite’s three giant sequoia groves.
Ahwahnee Meadow at sunrise Wednesday.
Counting Wednesday’s story, I’ve written 53 sizable pieces over two decades about crowds and plans to manage them in Yosemite Valley, one of the most spectacular places on the globe.
Since 1993, the valley has changed a lot — mostly for the good — but the core issue has not.
How many people can you fit in this seven square miles without ruining it or making it dangerous?
The National Park Service this week released another management plan — I’ve stopped counting, so don’t ask how many there have been since the early 1990′s. This is the third rendition of the Merced River Plan since 2000.
We will know soon if activists, led by Friends of Yosemite valley, agree with the park service’s approach to the capacity question. The park service is basically offering crowd and traffic management.
Here’s the pitch: The roads and parking in the valley will be designed to handle 19,900 people in a day. I’m told this number comes from extensive traffic studies based on the comings and goings in the valley.
One widely spread news story said the number of people allowed into the valley will remain about the same. The conclusion defies logic. There was no number in the past. The first defensible estimates have just been made.
The real issue: How will the park service will determine the 19,900 number every day? Do they count heads as people drive into the valley? No way.
Rangers will monitor parking spaces and roadway congestion in busy times while remaining in touch with park gate employees. When it is clear that the valley is too congested, cars will be diverted at El Capitan crossover before they reach the east side of the valley.
The plan is to build a parking lot near the crossover where people can park and either wait or catch a shuttle bus. Other visitors might want to just continue out of the valley to Glacier Point or Tioga Road in the high country.
Is that a solid enough accounting of the visitors? In other words, how firm is that 19,900 capacity?
Look soon for the response from activists, who have been very successful over the last decade in legal arguments for a firm number.