How safe is a night spent in Curry Village in Yosemite National Park? According to an analysis done by The Associated Press, in recent years there have been an increasing number of rockfalls from Glacier Point down towards the village and its camp of tent cabins.
For a decade, the National Park Service has known that the 3,000-foot granite cliff hanging over a tourist village at Yosemite is susceptible to colossal rockslides like one last month that crushed cabins and sent schoolchildren running for their lives.
An Associated Press examination of records found that rock falls in and around 600-cabin Curry Village have been happening more frequently in the past several years, with two people killed and about two dozen injured since 1996.
And yet, the park service has repeatedly rebuilt and repaired the lodgings rather than bar the public or post warnings.
That's a pretty strong accusation by the news service. But the AP (Disclaimer: For which I worked for 14+ years) is not alone in questioning the National Park Service's handling of visitor safety when it comes to rockfalls. Indeed, three years ago the family of a rock climber who was killed in 1999 by a rockfall from Glacier Point filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Park Service.
Peter Terbush died while belaying another climber on Glacier Point's face. In asking for $10 million, his family maintained that the Park Service was negligent in not warning climbers that rockfalls had recently occurred beneath Glacier Point. The lawsuit is still in the courts.
That was three years ago. Now the AP is pointing out a growing frequency in rockfalls.
Last month, after visiting Yosemite at the time of its most recent rockfall, I asked Delaware North officials, whose company operates Curry Village for the Park Service, whether they planned to relocate part of the tent cabin complex away from the footprint of Glacier Point's rockfalls. I was told that was not a decision the concessionaire could make, but rather one that would have to come from Yosemite officials.
Park officials, in response to the same question, said they were awaiting a geologic report on Glacier Point before deciding whether to close part of the village. A decision could come at any time.
Now, in the wake of a 2003 rockfall Yosemite officials permanently closed seven of the village's cabins. Some might question why more weren't closed, and even why park officials need another report in the wake of the latest rockfalls to make a decision on the village's boundaries. After all, as previous geologic studies have shown, and as the AP's latest story found, Glacier Point is not the most stable of granite cliffs.
While rockfalls, like earthquakes, are unpredictable, minimizing risk seemingly is the key issue at stake in Yosemite. While individuals have a personal responsibility to watch out for their own safety, how many, when making reservations for Curry Village, think they need to ask where the tent cabin they're reserving is located in relationship to Glacier Point?