California politicians, who jumped quickly to prevent horse pack trips at Sequoia National Park from being derailed last year, are moving to take a close look at Yosemite National Park plans that could lead to some concessions closings in the Yosemite Valley.
Next Tuesday at 9 a.m. the U.S. House of Representatives' subcommittee that oversees national parks and other public lands will take testimony on the "Public Impact of Closing Amenities at Yosemite National Park."
The meeting notice didn't specify who requested it. However, Congressman Tom McClintock, R-California, has been outspoken in his opposition to Yosemite's proposal for better managing the Yosemite Valley to benefit the Merced River corridor.
That draft management plan is 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.
Drawing the congressman's ire is a proposal by the park staff to remove the ice-skating rink in Curry Village, as well as the horseback riding concession in the valley. Bike rentals also would no longer be allowed if the proposal is approved, nor rentals of tubes for floating on the Merced.
In a floor speech to the House back in April, Rep. McClintock said that he was strongly opposed "to a proposal by the National Park Service to remove long-standing tourist facilities from Yosemite National Park, including bicycle and raft rentals, snack facilities, gift shops, horseback riding, the ice rink at Curry Village, tennis courts and swimming pools, the art center and the historic stone Sugar Pine Bridge. These facilities date back generations and provide visitors with a wide range of amenities to enhance their stay at – and their enjoyment of – this world-renowned national park.
"To add insult to insanity," he went on, "all this comes with a quarter-billion dollar price tag. Yosemite belongs to the American people, and the Park Service’s job is to welcome them and accommodate them when they visit their park – not restrict and harass them."
It was just about a year ago that a temporary ban on commercial pack trips in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks was instituted after the High Sierra Hikers Association filed a lawsuit to both get the National Park Service to meet the provisions of The Wilderness Act and to protect the sensitive environmental landscape of wilderness in Sequoia and Kings Canyon. The association was not trying to ban outright horse trips into the high country of the two parks, but rather was seeking what it believes is a more manageable level.
That move prompted the California lawmakers, not willing to await the outcome of a court hearing on matter, to legislate a solution. The bill passed by Congress directed the Park Service to issue permits for commercial stock operations in the wilderness areas of Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks. Those permits were to be issued to local outfitters, packers, and guides whose businesses have been impacted by court-ordered ban.