Editorials

Getting close to Yosemite’s giant sequoias again

Members of the media take an early look at the work done in Yosemite National Park’s Mariposa Grove on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. The grove, which had been closed since 2015 to improve giant sequoia habitat and visitor experience, has reopened to the public.
Members of the media take an early look at the work done in Yosemite National Park’s Mariposa Grove on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. The grove, which had been closed since 2015 to improve giant sequoia habitat and visitor experience, has reopened to the public. Fresno Bee file

All Californians can celebrate what took place at Yosemite National Park last week: the reopening of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

We reported back in 2015, it was being closed for a major renovation project. The goal: To tear out asphalt from parking lot areas to return the land to its natural state so rain and melting snow could seep into the ground and nurture the trees. To this end, nearly 1.5 acres of asphalt have been removed.

A new boardwalk was built, and parts of some trails were covered with StaLok, a type of paving material that allows water to penetrate while it helps protect tree roots. New wheelchair-accessible paths will allow disabled people to enjoy the grandeur of the grove. Wetlands were restored with native plants, and curbs were redesigned so runoff doesn’t flow out of the area.

Hundreds of dead pine trees, killed by the bark beetle infestation, were removed so more sunlight can fall onto sequoia saplings. The gift shop was moved toward a new 300-space parking area just inside the south entrance off Highway 41, where a Welcome Center with bathrooms (not portable potties) was built.

One of the biggest changes is the creation of a central place to catch free shuttles that ferry visitors to the grove. The shuttle pickup is 2 miles from the trees, and must be used during the busy summer season. The trams that used to weave through the grove on paved roads are a thing of the past.

Removal of the parking lot will restore the health of the grove and create a better visitor experience, Yosemite ecologist Sue Beatty said. “To see the transformation of the lower grove area from a parking lot to giant sequoia habitat has just been incredible.”

What visitors experience are about 500 sequoias, among the oldest and largest living things on Earth. Sequoia trees are like something from a “Jurassic Park” movie: Massive trunks covered in thick, reddish bark. The trees rise 100 fee to 250 feet into the sky, where short (by comparison) branches top the tree with a canopy of green needles.

The Grizzly Giant, one of the largest sequoias in the grove, is nearly 100 feet around at its base and 225 feet tall. It’s estimated to be 1,800 years old, which doesn’t even qualify it as one of the grove’s oldest (some are 2,000 years old). The Giant Sequoias used to cover the western slope of the Sierra, and this grove was discovered by but were logged enthusiastically in the late 1800s and early 20th century.

The Mariposa Grove was first noticed by the legendary Galen Clark, who served as Yosemite’s “guardian” for 24 years. It was at Clark’s urging that President Abraham Lincoln set aside the grove in the late 1860s to save some of them logging – the first law of its kind. In the same act, Lincoln also preserved Yosemite Valley. The national park system came later, but its seeds were planted in Mariposa Grove.

The trees can be enjoyed year-round. Yosemite allows access in the winter for those hardy enough to try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. There is even overnight snow camping in a part of the grove from December to mid-April.

About 1.5 million people visited the Mariposa Grove a year before the project, so Yosemite officials expect at least that many again.

The $40 million price of the renovation was split between the federal government and the Yosemite Conservancy, a nonprofit that advocates for the park.

All too often, environmental organizations merely complain about the degradation of nature but are unwilling to do anything about it – at least monetarily. Not the Conservancy. It is contributing to seven ongoing projects right now and has led or contributed to hundreds of others over the past decade. It’s website a font of information for visitors.

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