With an end-of-year deadline looming, Yosemite National Park officials expect to finish and release the final version of the controversial Merced River Plan.
Park spokesman Scott Gediman last week said park planners have been reviewing and documenting all of the tens of thousands of comments received on the plan, which lays out several major changes to the way the Park Service manages Yosemite Valley.
The final draft of the plan will likely be released in the next week or two, which is slightly past a Dec. 31 deadline set by a federal court in Fresno, Gediman said.
The park won’t seek another extension similar to the one granted in July for the river plan, he said.
“Obviously, we’re getting very close to the end of the year, and it may come out in early January,” he said.
The plan, released almost a year ago, has generated a lot of interest because it calls for, among other things, ripping out one or more historic bridges, moving several camping areas now located in the Merced River’s historic floodplain, and eliminating raft and bike rentals and winter ice skating.
The Park Service received 30,000 public comments on the plan, which triggered the request for an extension to the previous court-ordered deadline of July 31.
When the final Merced River Plan is released as part of a document called a Final Environmental Impact Statement, the park will cease any movement on it for 30 days. While there is no official public commenting during those 30 days, that period allows any party to file a lawsuit over the latest version of the plan.
The plan itself is the product of litigation. A federal court ordered a management plan for the Merced River in the park after environmental groups sued the park when it began rebuilding some valley infrastructure destroyed by floods in 1997. The groups said the Park Service needed to mitigate impacts to the protected river brought on by development and tourism in the valley.
“We are, obviously, very hopeful that it is not litigated,” Gediman said.
Plan critics say it will restrict visitation and accessibility to the public.
Environmental groups, however, claim it doesn’t do enough to protect the river corridor.
Park planners have already publicly hinted at some possible changes to the plan, including allowing for some bike rentals with kiosks and keeping ice skating at Curry Village with a removable facility.