Merced River Plan discussed

By Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat March 19, 2013 08:06 am

PUBLIC MEETING: Merced Wild and Scenic River Plan meeting, 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, Tuolumne County Library Groveland branch.

Yosemite National Park on Wednesday will hold its sole Tuolumne County public-input meeting on the Merced Wild and Scenic River Plan, which would rework many Yosemite National Park operations in an effort to protect the Merced River.

The Groveland event, at the Tuolumne County branch library, is one of the last of 10 public meetings scheduled around the state by the National Park Service to gather input.

The proposal is controversial because it could eliminate some recreational features while adding parking in the popular Yosemite Valley.

Possible actions include eliminating the winter ice rink at Curry Village, swimming pools at Yosemite Lodge and the Ahwahnee Hotel, and the Ahwahnee tennis court. The plan also calls for increasing campsites and parking spaces, removing a bridge on the Merced River, rerouting roads and a trail to improve traffic flow and removing bike and raft rentals as well as commercial livestock from the valley.

The goal is to keep maximum Yosemite Valley visitation at 19,000 people a day, including single-day visitors and those spending multiple days in lodges and campsites.

About 4 million people visit the park a year, and most of them go to the eight-mile Yosemite Valley.

The park released the final draft of the Merced River Plan in January.

Park representatives have said it protects the river that runs through the iconic valley while improving visitor experience at one of the most popular national parks.

The plan is contained within three volumes, each several inches thick, and proposes six management options that each include dozens of changes.

The plan dates back to 1986. It’s development was drawn out as park officials have tried to address concerns ranging from congestion to natural-resource preservation.

The three-hour public meeting will include a presentation about the plan by park officials, a question-and-answer session for attendees and an open house with materials on the plan, according to park officials. Interested parties can view the plan and related documents, as well as submit written comments, by visiting www.nps.gov/yose/parkmgmt/mrp.htm.