U.S. House Subcommittee To Take Testimony On Yosemite National Park's Merced River Plan Impacts

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.

Comments

Does anyone remember which plutocrat once said, "I love our members of Congress. I buy another two or three a month for my collection."

<<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. >>

I agree with Barbara Moritisch, the draft Merced River plan doesn't go far enough to protect the ecology and aesthetics of the natural resources in and surrounding the Merced River of Yosemite Valley.

Nevertheless, by including the recommendation to remove bicycle and raft rentals, horseback riding, and the ice rink at Curry Village (which operates only in the less crowded winter months), I cannot help but wonder if the NPS authors of this draft plan didn't intentionally include these specific recommended actions as a type of poison pill to ensure that their plan would not get traction.

I'm still upset that the 1980 General Management Plan for Yosemite was completed only to gather dust on a shelf for 33 years because of political perception that the plan, by encouraging the reduction and/or elimination of the private automobile from Yosemite Valley, would negatively affect the profits of the park concessioner and the economies of gateway and regional municipalities dependent on park tourism.

Regardless of the motivations to remove such things as the ice rink and bike rentals, it does not cast the NPS in a good light. They're either ultra cynical or incompetent...

Happy 4th... Independence Day is a fitting time to discuss the NPS and the mismanagement of Yosemite. Abraham Lincoln braham signed the act in 1864 that states, “the United States granted the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the state of California, to be held, for public use, resort, and recreation, inalienable for all time."... Note; public use, resort and recreation. Additionally, the author of the WRSA act, Congressman Tony Cohelo, has stated "The WSRA was never intended to apply to the Merced River within Yosemite National Park at all. The Merced River within Yosemite National Park is protected and regulated by the National Park Service (NPS) and has never needed an overlay of inconsistent and confusing regulation. The WRSA designation was intended to apply to the Merced River outside the Park to the west."

The NPS alternatives are ill conceived, misguided and do not support the original intent of the park nor the intent of the legislation. Yosemite for Everyone - the handicap can ride a horse, a young family can go on a bike ride, a father and son can kayak down the river.

Lastly, the proposed price tag of $250M..? on “removing” amenities, perhaps that would be better directed to staffing the parks… or allowing for white house tours?