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Groveland weighs in on Merced River Plan

With only weeks left in the public comment period for a controversial management plan for the Yosemite Valley, public feedback is already having an impact.

Kathleen Morse, Yosemite National Park’s chief of planning, told attendees at a public meeting in Groveland on Wednesday that the National Park Service is looking at possibly changing a handful of proposals in the latest draft of the Merced Wild and Scenic River Plan.

The meeting was one of a series held in recent weeks by the Park Service to give information and receive feedback on the plan that will alter many Yosemite National Park operations.

A proposal released in January called for eliminating some recreational features while adding parking and campsites. But with most of the 10 public meetings complete and the comment period set to close April 18, Morse said planners are rethinking plans to eliminate winter ice skating and bike rentals in the popular valley.

“Every time we’ve had a public session … we’ve made adjustments in our thinking,” Morse said to approximately 30 people gathered at the Groveland Community Hall.

While park officials still have public meetings planned in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the coming days and expect written comments to continue piling in, Morse said they are looking at ways to keep the two recreation options available.

In both instances, the park might be able to keep the popular activities in the valley while minimizing their impacts on the Merced River corridor.

“Those are some ideas,” she said. “That is how the thinking evolves. … This is a draft plan. That’s why we’re doing this.”

The Merced River Plan is meant to serve as a long-term management plan for the river that traverses the iconic valley. The goal is to protect and improve the watershed while improving visitor experience at one of the most popular national parks. About 4 million people visit the park a year, and most of them go to the eight-mile Yosemite Valley.

Along with the ice rink and bike rentals, the plan also calls for eliminating swimming pools at Yosemite Lodge and the Ahwahnee Hotel, removing the Ahwahnee tennis court, increasing campsites and parking spaces, removing a bridge on the Merced River, rerouting roads and a trail to improve traffic flow and removing raft rentals and commercial livestock from the valley.

About 500 people and organizations have commented on the plan in writing. Morse said the park expects to receive most of their comments near the end of the period. A final document must be finished in July, according to a court order, so Morse said an extension is unlikely.

The plan is contained within three volumes, each several inches thick, and proposes six management options that each include dozens of changes.

The plan dates back to 1986. It’s development was drawn out as park officials have tried to address concerns ranging from congestion to natural-resource preservation.

Though the crowd in Groveland was lighter than meetings at other gateway communities, attendees did discuss park capacity and increasing overnight visitors. Multiple comments highlighted the ability of lodging businesses and campgrounds in nearby areas outside of the park to accommodate those tourists to ease pressure on the valley.

Interested parties can view the plan and related documents, as well as submit written comments, by visiting www.nps.gov/yose/parkmgmt/mrp.htm.

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