Yosemite a treasure to be preserved

March 27, 2013 

Two weekends ago I snowshoed from Badger Pass to Dewey Point on the South Rim of Yosemite Valley. Although the snow was melting quickly in the warm weather, most of the trail was still covered by 18-24 inches of snow.

On hard-packed snow it's what I'd call a "moderate" snowshoe -- 8 miles round trip with a lot of gradual up and down.

In fresh powder it would be more work. The reward for the effort was the view of Yosemite Valley from Dewey Point.

Over the years I've seen the Valley from Glacier Point, Half Dome, the top of Yosemite Falls, and a number of other spots along the rim. They're all different, but Dewey Point was even more different than I had expected.

Although we didn't see many people along the trail, there were nearly 50 at the point when we arrived. After enjoying the view, we continued a short distance further west to Crocker Point. Despite the proximity of the two points, they vastly different panoramas.

The mostly level Meadow Trail is the most popular route from the Glacier Point Road to Dewey Point, but you can also form a semiloop by combining it with the Ridge Trail for one of the best moderate snowshoe experiences in Yosemite.

Parking is available at Badger Pass. Ask for a map at the snowshoe/cross-country ski rental building. If you need snowshoes, you can rent them for $11.50 a day.

With the snow quickly melting away, you can file this trip away for next season. As soon as the Glacier Point Road opens you can visit all or part of the South Rim by starting at Glacier Point and hiking west along the Pohono Trail. It's 13 miles all the way down to Tunnel View, but you can also enjoy some great shorter hikes -- Taft Point and Sentinel Dome are both about 2 miles round trip each.

Looking down on the Valley from Dewey Point, it was hard to tell that Yosemite Valley is the most popular spot in the park. The main features visible were meadows, trees, and the Merced River. The view reminded me that I had not yet taken the time to study the proposed Merced Wild and Scenic River Management Plan. When I returned home, I began my research.

The plan is a direct result of the river's "wild and scenic" designation and it is intended to protect the waterway and improve its condition. Depending on how it is implemented, the plan may change the Valley as we know it.

There are currently 6 possible implementation alternatives on the table and the National Park Service is taking public comments and feedback through April 18. The first alternative is to leave everything as it is. The second is the most drastic -- resulting in a massive reduction in visitors, parking spaces, and opportunities for camping, lodging, and recreation. Alternatives 2-4 are less extreme, Alternative 5 has both cuts and additions, and Alternative 6 generally increases visitor capacity and recreation options.

Alternative 5 is the favored option -- the one most likely to be carried out. Public comment is important because it can influence which option is ultimately chosen and how it is carried out.

As I read about Alternative 5, several positive changes stood out to me:

Increasing campsites from 565 to 726

Removing roadway bottlenecks

Restoration of 203 acres within the Valley

Improved picnic areas at Cathedral, Sentinel, and Swinging Bridge

Redesigned pathways, boardwalks, and the viewing platform at the base of Bridalveil Fall

Restoration of riverbank along the Merced

Development of a nature walk along the river.

Other changes include removal of bike and raft rentals, swimming pools, tennis courts, and concessionaire horseback rides from the Valley. If you've ever been to the Valley on a busy weekend, you know how bad the traffic jam nightmare can be.

Two years ago I saw traffic backed up so badly on all the roads that neither cars nor shuttle busses could move for hours.

Given this problem and the Valley's air quality, making it more difficult to ride bikes in the Valley seems absolutely insane to me. For many people it's more efficient to occasionally rent bikes in the park than to haul them all the way there. I'm no scientist, but I have to say that it's hard to imagine how bikes could have such a negative effect on the river that their removal is required.

Yosemite National Park has both a natural history and a human history. For that reason I am saddened by the proposed removal of the Curry Village ice rink and the concessionaire horseback riding. Winter ice skating at Curry has been a regular part of Yosemite's human history and has provided treasured memories since 1928. It is enjoyed at a time in the year when the park's visitation is the lowest.

Horseback riding goes back much further and provides a unique, historic way to enjoy the Valley -- including for people who may not be able to enjoy the Valley in other ways. According to the plan, you can still bring your own horses, but you'd have to be crazy to want to bring a horse trailer to the Valley on a busy weekend or practically any other time.

Nearly 95 percent of Yosemite is federally-designated and protected wilderness. Although I'd love to see the Valley as it was 200 years ago, accommodating the millions of people who visit the park and also making parts of the park accessible to people of all ages and abilities requires some compromise.

Technology has brought us countless benefits, but for many young people it threatens to create a narcissistic fantasy world. I've seen students who are so addicted to technology that they can't enjoy life unless they are able to check their phone every few seconds. They go through withdrawal symptoms if they are isolated form technology and find it difficult to enjoy the "real world" and the natural wonders around us. It's often through the "softer" activities -- floating the river on a hot afternoon, ice skating below Half Dome, experiencing a trail on horseback -- that people gradually come to love the outdoors.

I don't want to see more development in Yosemite, but I do have concerns about removing traditional activities that have helped people to develop an appreciation for the outdoors and have left a legacy of happy memories.

The future of Yosemite Valley is partially up to us. We have until April 18 to express our opinion of the proposed options. You probably won't have time for the 2,500 page draft plan, but can learn more by reading the 20 page summary of the plan at: http://www.nps.gov/yose/parkmgmt/mrp-deis-sum-guide.htm.

You can also comment by writing to: Superintendent, Attn: Merced River Plan, P.O. Box 577, Yosemite, CA 95389. It's important for people who enjoy and value Yosemite to play a role in the decisions made about its future.

Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com

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