Yosemite National Park officials are working to make one of the park's most popular waterfalls even more spectacular.
Lower Yosemite Falls is receiving a $12.5 million facelift in the form of a new, handicapped accessible path to a viewing area, a grassy picnic area and remodeled bathrooms.
The falls cascade 400 feet from a rocky ledge to the floor of Yosemite Valley, creating the third tier of the 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls the tallest waterfall in North America and fifth-largest in the world. In winter, a cone of snow and ice piles at the bottom of the crashing water. In spring, the thunder of falling snow melt resounds between the 3,000-foot granite walls.
Water from the falls meets the Merced River a few hundred yards away, and from there runs down the Sierra Nevada into the Central Valley.
The Lower Yosemite Fall Project began in early summer, 2002. When finished, the project will have created a new, loop trail to and from the observation deck, replaced narrow, flow-reducing bridges over Yosemite Creek and its tributaries, and covered a parking lot behind the falls with a grassy picnic area.
"We want you to get this full experience and by creating a green space here, people will enjoy this more," Park Ranger Deb Schweizer said.
In summers past, tourists gazed at the majestic waterfall while listening to the rumble of tour bus engines and smelling the diesel fumes behind them, Schweizer said. A long bathroom line usually snaked around a tiny building.
Now, onlookers will turn around to a grassy picnic spot. Restrooms will move to a new home about 2,000 feet east. More stalls will serve the crowds pouring off tour buses.
One-half of the trail loop will meet American Disabilities Act requirements so handicapped guests may view the waterfall.
The project should be finished in 2004, Schweizer said. The Yosemite Fund, a nonprofit organization, is donating $10 million of the $12.5 million cost of the face-lift. Park entrance fees are funding $1.5 million, and federal tax dollars will cover the rest.