A congressman from California is furious over Yosemite National Park's proposed Merced River Plan, saying it calls for changes that would "limit public access and enjoyment of Yosemite."
"The 1864 Act authorizing the original Yosemite land grant to the State of California stated that the 'premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation' and 'shall be inalienable for all time,'" Congressman Tom McClintock said. "The draft plan in question directly contravenes the authorization, and I am firmly against NPS taking any action that would limit public access and enjoyment of Yosemite."
Drawing the congressman's ire is a draft management plan intended to provide protection for the "outstandingly remarkable values" of the Merced River, which was designated in 1987 as a "recreational" river through the Yosemite Valley under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Two earlier plans the park drafted to address protection of the river were struck down by the courts.
In the most recent rejection, by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February 2008, the judges both directed the park staff to set a daily visitation capacity limit for the river corridor through the valley and quite clearly implied that the Park Service needed to consider reducing commercial activities that do not "protect or enhance" the Merced's unique values.
In approaching for the third time the task of preparing a viable plan for the valley, Yosemite's planning chief, Kathleen Morse, and her staff spent a great deal of time surveying park visitors for what they wanted from a Yosemite Valley experience.
"They really wanted us to make sure that these experiences that they’ve had over time, the family connection, the camping opportunities, the kind of eclectic lodging accommodations, just the essence of Yosemite was really important to maintain," she told the Traveler earlier this year.
“They didn’t want to see a big shift in the heart of what the Yosemite expereince is. They wanted those things to be kept over time, because they’ve shared them from generation to generation," Ms. Morse went on. "They also wanted to have the freedom of access to Yosemite by private vehicle, and have the ability to make the choice, if they came on public transit or not, they wanted to bring their cars as an option. They wanted traffic congestion and crowding to be reduced."
In crafting the plan, the park staff decided the ice-skating rink in Curry Village should go, as well as the horseback riding concession in the valley, and that bike rentals would no longer be allowed, nor rentals of tubes for floating on the Merced.
While Rep. McClintock, a Republican from the state's fourth congressional district, said he realizes the scope of the Wild and Scenic River Act, he added that "Congress did not intend for NPS to use the Act to justify limiting visitation, closing facilities and eliminating or curtailing historic uses that pre-date passage of the Act and the Merced River designation under the Act."
"The Merced River’s designation was based upon the river’s value as a popular recreation resource in a highly-visited National Park that was supported by the extensive facilities that existed at the time of the river’s designation," he continued in comments submitted to the park. "Congress could not have intended for NPS to limit visitation or do away with the existing facilities and the recreational activities that support the values that caused the Merced River to be designated in the first place. Congress also did not intend its designation to drive planning of the larger park and force the closure of facilities that pre-date the Act, enhance visitor experiences, and are located outside of the Merced River.
"... It defies logic that NPS is proposing to close these facilities not because they degrade the Merced River, but instead because in NPS’s eyes, these longstanding facilities do not benefit the River. What about the benefits that the American public will lose under NPS’s proposal? NPS is also proposing to eliminate commercial rafting on the River. Like the existing facilities, commercial rafting is a service that was offered before the Merced River’s designation under the Act."
In a separate letter to Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, the congressman, along with other members of California's congressional delegation, ask that he extend the public comment period on the draft plan.
"We understand that the National Park Service is operating on a Court-ordered timetable and has already conducted substantial public outreach," reads the letter. "As you are aware, the plan and its supporting documents are several thousand pages long. Therefore, we request that you extend the public comment period to give the public more time to review and respond."