American Recreation Coalition Critical Of Yosemite Valley Plan

Yosemite Valley can feel like a bustling town at times, with traffic jams, wailing emergency sirens, and tour buses and tractor-trailer trucks snaking along the roads. While Yosemite National Park planners are trying to better manage some of that crowding, the American Recreation Coalition fears they're going too far and threatening the visitor experience.

In comments filed in response to the park's draft Merced Wild and Scenic River Comprehensive Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, ARC President Derrick Crandall stated that, "We strongly object to reductions in visitor experience opportunities in Yosemite, an outcome under each of the offered alternatives in the proposed plan. We believe that the NPS has failed to meet the requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to offer any alternative that would add to the opportunities for quality visitor experiences in the park."

The draft plan is just the most recent attempt by park staff to address the human footprint on the valley and the Merced River, a wild and scenic stream. Twice previously Yosemite officials released 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. Both times the plan was 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 trying to meet the court's directive, park staff decided that by relocating parking areas, by removing some Housekeeping Camp units, demolishing a bridge (the Sugar Pine Bridge), by adding boardwalks and fencing, taking out the Curry Ice Rink and even doing away with the horseback ride concession, by adding a 36-site RV campground, boosting campsite numbers to 690 over the current 565, and by adding 111 day-use parking spots for a total of 2,448, they could not only maintain visitation levels in the valley at current levels of just under 20,000 per day, but also restore 203 acres in the valley and improve traffic flows so visitors aren't idling on the roads.

But in his review of the draft, Mr. Crandall said the proposed alternatives show "clear bias" against concessions that hold permits to provide visitor experiences in the valley, such as the horseback concession.

"Yosemite has a long and rich history of joint concessioner/National Park Service efforts serving families and groups," he said in a release. "Yet in the offered alternatives, provisions for services to visitors ranging from bike rentals to tube rentals to horseback experiences are either heavily reduced or eliminated – even when those activities would be allowed for those bringing their own equipment."

ARC officials, whose group represents park concessionaires, RV campgrounds, manufacturers of snowmobiles and motorboats, the American Horse Council and the American Motorcycle Association among many others, said the Yosemite Valley proposal runs counter to Park Service efforts nationally to boost visitation to the parks.

"The current direction of the National Park Service is now to invite more visitors and be more relevant as the Centennial of the NPS approaches," Mr. Crandall said. "In fact, NPS has now launched a multi-year, multi-million dollar campaign . . .with a key KPI (Key Performance Indicator) being to reclaim historic levels of NPS visitation proportionate to the U.S. population."

ARC urged Yosemite to consider an alternative management protocol currently being implemented by the U.S. Forest Service, which manages America’s national forests. Mr. Crandall described that agency’s more gradual and consensus-based approach to visitor management, noting that it "largely rejects dramatic changes in visitor services in favor of an iterative process that defines clear resource goals and monitors key indicators, adjusting visitor numbers and management protocols in consultation with key interests around agreed-upon goals."

Comments

There is one paragraph in the article that should set off alarm bells: "ARC officials, whose group represents park concessionaires, RV campgrounds, manufacturers of snowmobiles and motorboats, the American Horse Council and the American Motorcycle Association among many others, said the Yosemite Valley proposal runs counter to Park Service efforts nationally to boost visitation to the parks."

Until the Park Service develops the backbone needed to stand up to monied special interests, not much is going to change for the better. The big question, however, is how to stand up against intense pressure from high places -- such as Congress.

Meanwhile, in this morning's Legislative Activities Report, we find this little gem: "On May 7th, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands and Environmental Regulation will hold an oversight hearing on “Impediments to Public Recreation on Public Lands.” The hearing will be at 2:00 pm in 1334 Longworth. There was no request for an Administration witness." Based on what little information is available in that paragraph, it sounds very worrisome. This is the committee chaired by Utah's Rob Bishop and sounds as if it's one more attempt to open public lands to even greater use by ATVs and other impactful forms of "recreation."

If we are going to maintain the intent of the 1916 act that created the NPS and its mandate "to preserve unimpaired," eternal vigilance is required.

Sometimes it's the visitors that ruin the visitor experience.

The ARC has a right to speak on on behalf of concessionaires, but nobody has the right to jack up a national park for private profit.

Mr Crandall would make a great attorney...

Lee, I marvel at how you dig up this information.More often than not your more right than wrong.Totally agree with you on this one.

As I have visited these parks and see the profit takers at work I just look at my wife and say it's all about the money hon.

Lee - a good heads-up about two entities that bear close watching: the ARC and any congressional committee under the leadership of Mr. Bishop.

Contrary to the ARC's opinion, about the last thing Yosemite Valley needs is anything that will "boost visitation."

"ARC officials, ..., said the Yosemite Valley proposal runs counter to Park Service efforts nationally to boost visitation to the parks."

Of course, a goal of boosting overall visitation doesn't mean that every national park needs a boost. Yosemite Valley is often too crowded as it is.

rdm24 - Agree with your statement: The ARC has a right to speak on on behalf of concessionaires, but nobody has the right to jack up a national park for private profit.

Lee Dalton Also agree with you: If we are going to maintain the intent of the 1916 act that created the NPS and its mandate "to preserve unimpaired," eternal vigilance is required.

To both of you, well said!

The witness list for that subcommitte hearing has been released.

Two of the witnesses, David Brown of the America Outdoors Association and Rick Lindsey of Prime Insurance Company, appeared before this subcommitte as witness in an oversight hearing last August. That hearing was entitled “Concession Contract Issues for Outfitters, Guides and Smaller Concessions”.

http://naturalresources.house.gov/uploadedfiles/plerwitnesslist05-07-13.pdf

http://www.americaoutdoors.org/america_outdoors/files/pdf/Lindsey.pdf

http://www.americaoutdoors.org/america_outdoors/files/pdf/CongressionalTestimonyAug2012.pdf

Thank you very much for posting that information, Sara. It takes a lot of digging to find anything that may be pertinent to things like this. I, for one, really appreciate your work. The last two items you've listed make some very interesting reading and helped me understand some of the concerns of the organization that will be testifying.

There were also some indications that some of this controversy may stem from requirements in past Congressional actions that had some unintended (or maybe intended) consequences. It will take some more study and thought to try to understand those things and much more of this.

Thanks for highlighting our comments on the Merced River plan -- but I do think the article was unfair. Certainly we don’t support traffic jams and overcrowding. But eliminating rentals of bikes and tubes is hardly an effective strategy to manage use of Yosemite Valley.

First, as you know visitation and overnight stays in Yosemite Valley are down substantially from peak years, And concessioners are at the heart of many positive management steps to control threats to natural and cultural resources and reduce social conflicts. DNC designed and operates the hybrid shuttles that are a very effective way to reduce personal car use in the valley. Delaware North has also reduced the flow of traffic to support its operations dramatically by aggressive recycling (and a very large reduction in the waste stream trucked out of the valley) and by forcing its suppliers to combine deliveries. In fact, for the past two years DNC has also been using inbound delivery trucks to haul away waste – including food scraps that are composted by the local farmers and ranchers that supply the company’s restaurants. Great stories here.

Most importantly, the Merced River plan never raises the tools which would best mitigate the impacts of visitation – including using strategies such as dynamic pricing to shift visitation away from peak periods and increased efforts to encourage going beyond the paved surfaces in the park. It certainly doesn’t take long to get away from the park’s crowds and into the park’s backcountry. Our point is that the valley can host more visits -- just not at peak times and within the narrow confines of the currently-hardened valley.

America’s national parks will be safe as long as they have passionate supporters. Study after study has documented the strong correlation between those visiting parks and those who take actions to care for them. A smaller percentage of Americans is now visiting our parks than in the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s, That is not good. America's national parks can and should be of benefit to most Americans -- and to do so, we need to combine our efforts to manage and enhance visits effectively. The Merced River plan does not meet these objectives.

Derrick

Thanks Mr. Crandall. It's good to hear a voice of reason. The currently proposed plan looks more like a solution in search of a problem than anything else.

As for those that abhor profit, may I remind everybody that we do live in a capitalistic society whose profits fund the taxes that make the NP possible...

Capitalism is still free to create its own version of the National Park Experience unburdened by icky treehugger ideologies. https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/wilderness-lodge-resort/#

After having had a chance to do some more reading, and thanks to Sara for her posts, and to Mr. Crandall for his observations, I've become much less concerned about this. It appears that the organizations that will be testifying are all companies that depend upon proper park management for their existence. It is not the kind of "impediment to public recreation" that we see pushed so frequently here in Utah and other western states by people who want free access for their ATVs or elimination of regulations against grave robbing in ancient sites.

So although there may be some significant differences of opinion in some of it, it's not the threat of destructive practices at work here.

The irony in the railing against free enterprise in the parks is that the same people who complain about money making enterprises (as if making money was evil...) would love it if the concessions were run by the government. Unfortunately, we all know from empirical studies or personal experience (anybody go to the DMV lately?) that government run enterprises are almost always less efficient than their private counterpart.