With an eye on improving the safety of hikers heading to the top of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park officials are proposing to reduce the number of daily permits from 400 to 300, according to a proposed management plan.
The Half Dome Trail Stewardship Plan Draft Environmental Assessment, now open for public review through March 15, says limiting the daily allotment to 300 "provides the best combination of accessibility to the summit, free-flowing travel conditions on the cables, which improves safety, and low encounter rates on the trail, similiar to use levels found on other high-use trails in Yosemite's wilderness and other wilderness areas."
Half Dome long has attracted throngs of hikers -- some experienced, some not, some well-equipped for the task, some not -- and at times there have been accusations that the heavy, unregulated traffic to the top of the iconic dome has played a role in some accidents on the dome's steeply pitched shoulder.
The plan also encompasses the two-mile section from the John Muir Trail to the summit of Half Dome.
The Preferred Alternative outlined in the draft environmental assessment is to keep the cables in place with their current configuration and implement daily use limits of 300 people per day.
The park implemented an Interim Half Dome Cables Permit System for the 2010 and 2011 hiking seasons while it worked on developing a long-range plan. An Interim Half Dome Cables Permit System will also be implemented during the 2012 hiking season.
In 1964, Congress passed the Wilderness Act, creating the National Wilderness Preservation System. As such, approximately 95 percent of Yosemite National Park , including Half Dome and the Half Dome Trail, is designated Wilderness. Consequently, all of the action alternatives were developed to improve the wilderness character of the trail, a park release stated.
The Environmental Assessment presents environmental analysis of five alternatives, including the Preferred Alternative.
Alternative A, the No Action Alternative, would retain the cable system and continue managing the Half Dome Trail as it was through 2009, with no permits required. This action violates National Park Service policy and will not be considered, Yosemite officials said.
Under Alternative B, the park would retain the cable system and implement day-use limits through a permit system allowing 400 hikers per day.
Under Alternative C, the Preferred Alternative, the park would retain the cable system and implement day-use limits through a permit system allowing 300 hikers per day.
Under Alternative D, the park would retain the cable system and implement day-use limits through a permit system allowing 140 hikers per day.
Under Alternative E, the park would remove the cable system from Half Dome.
If approved, the preferred alternative will be implemented for the 2013 hiking season.
Hiking permits for Half Dome will be allocated through an online reservation system and/or a lottery.
The public review and comment period begins with release of the EA. The document is available for electronic review at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/halfdome.
Please submit written comments electronically through the website, or join us at the park's monthly Open House at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center Auditorium on Wednesday, February 29, 2012, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., to discuss the plan with park staff. Hard copies or CDs of the EA may be requested by emailing [email protected]. You may also mail your comments to P.O. Box 577 Yosemite, California 95389, c/o Superintendent, ATTN: Half Dome Plan; or send a facsimile to (209) 379-1294.