New Yosemite plan may limit visitor numbers

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat /

Yosemite National Park has released, and is now accepting comments on, two potentially contentious long-term management plans that could affect park attendance and recreational activities.

Organizations and individuals can comment on environmental documents for the park's Merced and Tuolumne river plans in the coming months. Comments on the Merced River Plan will be taken through April 18. The Tuolumne River Plan is open for comment through March 18.

Both rivers run through the popular national park, with the Merced River flowing through the Yosemite Valley and the Tuolumne running from Tuolumne Meadows and filling Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

Yosemite National Park officials' preferred option for managing the Merced River watershed would keep the number of visitors allowed in the valley to 19,900 per day but close the Curry Village ice rink open in the winter. The preferred proposal for the Merced plan also calls for increased shuttle buses to reduce the well-known traffic congestion in the valley.

People would still be allowed to raft in the Merced River, though they would only be allowed on specific sections of river bank to reduce erosion

The plan as proposed would cost more than $200 million.

Park officials' preferred Tuolumne River Plan version proposes allowing the restoration of informal trails, replanting native vegetation, restoring hydrological conditions, continuing visitor access to the Tuolumne, repairing meadow damage and other proposals.

A local environmental organization is already raising concerns about the plans in their current forms.

John Buckley, who heads the Twain Harte-based Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, said in an email to The Union Democrat that it will take weeks to fully review the documents. But he also stated that he has "major concerns" over the plans.

The Merced plan, Buckley stated, promotes a visitation level that will lead to continued "traffic jams, air pollution, noise, crowding, and a lack of commitment to protect Yosemite Valley as a natural cathedral."

The Tuolumne plan, he continued, would put Tuolumne Meadows' overnight capacity at 2,700 people and increase day-use capacity to more than 1,800 visitors.

"It is clear that the park staff is choosing to maximize visitation rather than making protection of these iconic places the highest priority," Buckley stated.

To view the plans, go online to nps.gov/yose/parkmgmt/mrp.htm or nps.gov/yose/parkmgmt/trp.htm.

11886762
The Union Democrat
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