The Merced River Plan has many elements that will drastically affect the way in which visitors access and enjoy traditional recreational activities.
The National Park Service has presented its "preferred alternative," which calls for removing the swimming pools at Yosemite Lodge and the Ahwahnee Hotel, bicycle rentals, day horseback rides, raft rentals, the 80-year-old Curry Village ice rink and the tennis courts at the Wawona Hotel. In addition, the plan calls for an arbitrarily set "visitor capacity" and removal of the historic Sugar Pine Bridge.
The plan is based on litigation that ordered a "user capacity" to be determined according to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Merced River was designated wild and scenic in 1987. The river has three different components. The "recreational" component is the section that flows through most of Yosemite Valley. The congressional intent of the act was to prevent construction of dams. It does not mandate changing any existing functions such as campgrounds and bridges and does not preclude rafting or any of the other traditional recreational opportunities that existed before the 1987 designation. Since it is deemed "recreational," the current and traditional river uses and other uses near the river comply with this intent.
The National Park Service has elected to assign a user capacity that is just less than the largest number during the summer of 2011. This will have the effect of eventually limiting the number of visitors and necessitating a day-use reservation system. Some parking additions have been planned, but not nearly the numbers that were historically in place and available to the public. The plan reflects numbers that when compared with an artificial "base line" creates the impression there is a real increase. In fact, there isn't an increase. The same goes for campgrounds. The plan shows an increase, but only because 40 percent of the approximately 900 campsites were not rebuilt after the 1997 flood.
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There are two other plans in the process of being implemented: the Tuolumne River Plan and the Mariposa Grove Plan. Taken in totality, the three plans restrict recreation and access and will no doubt have a profound effect on visitation. There is a trend toward social injustice that can't be overlooked. Yosemite is moving toward becoming an elitist park -- available only to those with the means to visit with their own equipment -- and will cater mostly to those who want to hike or backpack. Opportunities that have been enjoyed by generations will be eliminated.
The intent of the Yosemite Grant signed by President Lincoln in 1864 is being disregarded. The act authorized a grant to the state of California that included Yosemite Valley and the land "embracing" the Mariposa Big Tree Grove. Lincoln said that "the premises shall be held for public use, resort and recreation." This foundational document led to Yosemite becoming a national park. The National Park Service has forgotten that the park belongs to the people. It has forgotten that diverse recreation available to all is essential to a quality visitor experience. It has forgotten what President Lincoln envisioned and what the people deserve. Ironically, this Merced River Plan will fall on the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant.
"Every opportunity should be afforded the public, wherever possible, to enjoy the national parks in the manner that best satisfies the individual taste." This is what Franklin Knight Lane, then secretary of the Interior, told National Park Service Director Stephen Mather in 1918. This guiding principle, almost a century old, has been disregarded.
You must make your voice heard! Without public outcry, average families will lose the recreational opportunities that help provide the most rewarding visitor experiences. "Limits" will be the new standard for Yosemite policy. Send your comments to the National Park Serv-ice and your U.S. senators and congressman.
Max Stauffer of Wawona is president of the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau in Oakhurst and owns the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. He has been involved in Yosemite issues for 30 years.
THE FRESNO BEE
The public comment period on the Merced River Plan closes Thursday.
The comment section of Yosemite's Merced River Plan website:
The main page of Merced River Plan website: