Mariposa & Yosemite

Yosemite Valley protection plan back to square one

Nine years after creating a plan to limit crowds in Yosemite Valley, National Park Service officials are starting over.

Fresno will be the first stop Monday in a tour of cities from Sacramento to Pasadena where officials will seek public comment about protecting wildlife and the banks of the Merced River from crowds. The closest meetings to Modesto are July 22 in Mariposa, July 29 in Yosemite Valley and July 30 in Groveland.

The new plan was ordered two years ago by a federal judge, who agreed with environmentalists that the National Park Service needs to limit how many people can visit the Merced and adjoining areas.

Environmental activists say the limit is needed because millions of people each year pass through Yosemite Valley, where the Merced is the main river. The plan also will help shape future road and construction projects in the valley.

People from all over the globe have followed this legal fight, and more than 10,000 people commented on the first plan.

The park service has been consulting with the two environmental watchdog groups that filed the marathon lawsuit -- Friends of Yosemite Valley and Mariposans for Environmentally Responsible Growth.

Nothing has been announced about possible changes in the park service's planning approach.

"We're hoping for a different and better result this time," said Greg Adair of Friends of Yosemite Valley.

The new plan will have to deal with many arguments between environmentalists and the park service over such issues as rebuilding Yosemite Lodge, rerouting traffic and replacing campgrounds.

The plan's success will hinge on establishing how many people can visit the river without trampling vegetation, eroding the banks and harming creatures.

In the previous plan, the park service avoided a firm capacity limit, instead proposing monitoring so limits could be adjusted as needed depending on the river's condition and the number of visitors. The method is used in other recreation spots, officials said.

The proposal was overturned in court. Though many projects in Yosemite Valley have been completed in the past nine years, the $35 million reconstruction of the lodge and long-awaited rerouting of the access roads were stopped.

Plan to be 'more definitive'

The public meetings this summer are considered a continuation of meetings that began in 2007 but were put on hold during an unsuccessful park service appeal. People who made comments two years ago do not need to resubmit their comments, officials said.

Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said the new river plan will be more specific than the previous one, which focused on broad concepts.

That's why officials need to hear ideas from the public about such issues as where campgrounds, boardwalks and trails should go.

"We will be more definitive now," Gediman said.

After comments are collected, the park service will produce an environmental document assessing the possible effects and setting some kind of crowd limits. The document then will be presented to the public.

Officials anticipate they will complete the plan by September 2012, a dozen years after the first plan was finished.