Board pans Merced River Plan

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

Tuolumne County leaders are unhappy with a long-term management plan for the Merced River in Yosemite Valley.

The county Board of Supervisors voiced that concern on Tuesday before approving a letter recommending against the current draft of the Merced Wild and Scenic River Comprehensive Management Plan, drafted by the National Park Service.

The letter will be submitted with the public comments on the Merced River Plan and takes exception with a number of proposals in the plan that supervisors say will limit visitor access at Yosemite National Park and degrade visitor experiences.

"We need to maximize access and the experience," said Board Chairman Randy Hanvelt.

"We're violating the spirit of what the park service is supposed to be doing here," Hanvelt later said.

In the letter, the board questions the latest draft of the plan's proposal to eliminate pools, bike rentals, ice skating, raft rentals, and commercial day horseback rides in the valley.It also looks at taking out the historic Sugar Pine Bridge, adding parking spots and campsites, improving river conditions and cutting back on other amenities in the popular valley.

The plan's stated goal is to protect and improve the Merced River watershed while improving the "visitor experience" at one of the most popular national parks. About 4 million people visit the park a year. Most go to the eight-mile-long Yosemite Valley.

The plan was released in January. Park officials will be collecting comments through April 18, with hundreds from individuals and organizations already submitted.

The plan attempts to balance concerns ranging from congestion to natural-resource preservation and balance environmental interests and park accessibility. The plan was started in 1986, and it has been the subject of litigation. The latest version has been driven by that litigation, with a court order requiring a final draft to be in place by July.

Board of Supervisors member John Gray, who represents Groveland and Big Oak Flat near the park entrance, said the National Park Service has worked hard to balance various interests in the wake of the legal issues.

"I do believe the park service is trying to do their best to maximize the user experience," Gray said.

"I want to get as many people in there to use it, but I still want to have a park," he later said.

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

11899331
The Union Democrat
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