Hearing on Yosemite plan tomorrow in park

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By GENEVIEVE

BOOKWALTER

Fran Mainella, director of the National Park Service, and U.S. Rep. George Radanovich will celebrate Earth Day tomorrow in Yosemite National Park.

But with the two politicians will come environmentalists and land-use groups all with vocal opinions on Yosemite Valley campsites.

The two politicians will come from Washington D.C. to celebrate and to hold a field hearing on the Yosemite Valley Plan, during which many expect proposed campsites to be hotly debated.

More than 800 camping spaces were wiped out along the Merced River in a 1997 flood. Park officials are looking at putting oak woodlands, wetlands and shoreline habitats back in those spots.

The restoration project is controversial because the park has not made up for the lost campsites anywhere else.

A report prepared for Congress is expected to be available today or tomorrow detailing where outside Yosemite Valley those replacement campsites could go.

An April 17 letter from P. Lynn Scarlett, assistant secretary, policy, management and budget with the U.S. Department of the Interior, to Charles H. Taylor, chairman of the subcommittee on interior and related agencies, said the study identified 788 new camping spots. According to the letter, construction of those grounds is estimated at $104 million.

"That sounds like an awful lot of money to create campgrounds that may or may not be essential," said John Buckley, director of Twain Harte's Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center. "The National Forest on the fringe of the park already provides a variety of camping. There's also the gateway communities, which provide great opportunities for lodging for these folks."

But that idea doesn't make everybody happy.

"You can't replace in-valley sites with out-of-valley sites. That's not equivalent at all," said John McCamman, Radanovich's chief of staff. McCamman said Radanovich would prefer to develop some campsites out of the valley, but also re-open the 144 that another study said could be replaced along the river.

The reopening is estimated at $18.7 million.

That study should be available today or tomorrow as well.

Peggy Mosley, owner of the Groveland Hotel, accused the Park Service of jacking up the campsite construction price.

"This number has got to be totally inflated," Mosley said. "To me a campsite is a picnic table and a stove and clearing the area."

Mosley said the Park Service should reassess the cost, but put in as many camp spaces as possible.

Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said there's a lot to be discussed before any work is done.

"We have said since the flood that we want to bring the campsite numbers back up to near the pre-flood level, but look at other options outside of Yosemite Valley," he said.

"This study helps us in identifying the potential for new campgrounds. However, at this point, we would need to look at both funding and further compliance issues before we move ahead."

Contact Genevieve Bookwalter at gbookwalter@uniondemocrat.com .

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