The start of a new year is a convenient and inspiring milestone for starting new things and ending old ones.
It’s also a good time to look back on the high and low points of the previous year and to review its unfinished business. In the world of outdoor recreation, there are a lot of unresolved issues that will continue to be important this year.
Critical Habitat Designation for Sierra Frogs and Toads: This proposed designation is intended to stop the sudden decline of these populations in the Sierra Nevada. Two more public meetings will allow the opportunity for the public to ask questions and present concerns about what this designation may mean for tourism, recreation, agriculture, timber harvest, and mining. I wish I could attend in order to get some of my unanswered questions answered, but of course these meetings always seem to be scheduled at inconvenient times that the average working person can’t easily attend.
The first will be at the Mono County Courthouse in Bridgeport on Jan. 8 from 1 to 3 p.m. and the second will be at the Fresno County Board of Supervisors Chambers in Fresno on Jan. 13 from 1 to 3 p.m. I am not convinced that plans to limit human activity in these areas will solve a problem that primarily seems to be caused by an amphibian virus spread by nonnative amphibians and the planting of nonnative fish. If you are concerned about the recreational and economic future of the Sierra, this is an important issue to get involved in.
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Merced River Plan: Your experience as a visitor to Yosemite Valley in the future will be determined by this plan. Six alternatives were proposed last January. Public meetings were held and comments were accepted through April 30.
Since then we have been waiting for the final “record of decision,” due December 31. As of this writing, I haven’t seen it yet and I am hoping for a decision that keeps Yosemite Valley accessible to everyone, rather than one that makes it too difficult or expensive for families with children and limited incomes. Of course, the decision may not be the final word – there’s always the possibility of court or congressional action.
Clear Creek Management Area: We’ve been waiting to hear if and how the 31,000 closed acres of this BLM-managed section of the Diablo Range will reopen to the public. They’ve been sealed off since 2008 over concerns about naturally-occurring asbestos in the soil. According to the local BLM field office, the decision should be announced any time now.
When it happens, you will read about it here.
Drought: As we wait and hope for rain, about the only good news is that the areas burned by the Rim Fire have so far escaped catastrophic mudslides from heavy rains or sudden snowmelt. With reservoirs low and groundwater already being overused, we need a year of at least average precipitation.
While we wait for it, there’s not anything that we can do to make it come. Skiing, snowboarding, snow play, and snowshoe options are limited right now, but the slopes are partially open at China Peak, Bear Valley, Mammoth, June Mountain, Kirkwood, and all of the major Tahoe resorts. Badger Pass and Dodge remain closed. You can also ice skate in downtown Fresno, Yosemite Valley, or Long Barn.
My way of looking at it is that there’s always something to enjoy no matter what the weather or season, so during a drought season it is time to look for the things we can’t do in normal or above average seasons. One of these is seeing an historic site at Lake McClure. The low water levels at Lake McClure have made the upper section of the original Exchequer Dam visible again. Boaters can see it easily while fishing the lake. If you saw the dam on the nighttime news about a week ago, be advised that you can’t walk on it as the reporters were doing, but you can see it from the water.
It’s also possible that Tioga Pass could reopen temporarily as it did in December through January of the winter of 2011-2012. The chance to see Tenaya Lake completely frozen over seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime thrill, but it could be repeated. If you do go over to the Eastern Sierra, Highway 270 to Bodie State Historic Park is currently open.