Mariposa Life

Taking a look behind the scenes at Yosemite National Park

First in a series

Sunshine and shadows dappled the Merced River canyon on a cool morning as I drove to Yosemite last week. Hillsides were dressed in dusty browns and variegated greens. It’s another summer in the Sierra Nevada.

Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher recently announced, “Year-to-date visitors at the end of June were increased by almost 23 percent compared to last year.”

The gateway communities also benefit from the rise in tourism numbers.

After entering the park and enjoying the view along Southside Drive for a while, I noticed a few changes: landmarks have new names.

The Ahwahnee Hotel is now called the Majestic Yosemite Lodge. Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is Yosemite Valley Lodge. Curry Village is Half Dome Village. Badger Pass Ski Area is Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area. And the Wawona Hotel is Big Trees Lodge.

On March 1 Yosemite personnel welcomed the arrival of its new concessionaire: Yosemite Hospitality LLC, a subsidiary of Aramark.

Last week I attended this summer’s quarterly meeting of Yosemite Gateway Partners along with more than 100 individuals representing multiple state and nonprofit organizations, and local tourism and government offices.

Additional changes are in the works for the park. Topics at the meeting covered sustainability, landfills, parking improvements, meadow restoration, wilderness degradation and water safety.

Lisa Cesaro and Mark Gallagher, both with Yosemite, presented future plans for long-term ecological balance during the next 15 years.

Gallagher said, “It didn’t take Aramark long to fall in love with this place and realize their work can make a difference.”

Aramark signed a 15-year contract, replacing Delaware North.

Goals include improving waste diversion, ongoing energy and water-use reduction, decreasing emissions, continuing to protect wildlife, and securing local sources for meat, seafood, dairy and produce for the thousands of meals served every day.

Installing water and electric meters, replacing existing lighting with LED alternatives, and using air-cooled refrigeration systems (instead of water-cooled), are some of Yosemite’s current ideas for energy and water use reduction. Solar technology may be a possibility as well.

Already 24 company vehicles have been replaced with electric vehicles, and NPS hopes to add more in the future.

The Zero Landfill Initiative is a partnership with the National Parks Conservation Association guided by the expertise of Subaru.

Jodi Bailey, environmental protection specialist, presented upcoming changes with the new initiative.

“Over 70 new, larger trash and recycling containers will be installed,” she said. “They’ll be wildlife-proof and easier to see and use.”

“Green” parks and purchasing programs are in place already at many of our national parks. Bailey challenged the group to collaborate at each table and come up with more ideas.

Some of you will remember the old slogans: “Give a hoot, don’t pollute.” This land is your land, this land is my land. What if everybody did?

And we have new ones: Keep our parks beautiful. Pack it in, pack it out. Leave no trace.

According to the NPCA, in 2013 more than 100 millions pounds of waste was the unintended consequence of the 273.6 million visitors to America’s national parks.

To put this in perspective, imagine 20 million household trash bags filled and positioned end to end, stretching across the country. The line of trash would reach from Los Angeles to New York three times — 8,368 miles.

Saving our natural resources and recycling are catching on:

Hotels offer credit to a local restaurant for guests choosing not to have sheets changed during their stay.

Tour guides picking up trash along the trail notice hikers in their group following their example.

Some businesses provide a container for battery, electronics and cell phone recycling.

Reusable water bottles are being sold and used around the world, with specially designed water fountains placed in public areas for refilling.

And current dialogue explores the development of a co-op for trading and/or repurposing camping and hiking gear that’s left behind.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. Follow her on Twitter @ghostowngal or email her at