One of the nation’s oldest national parks may be getting a facelift.
A $235 million plan to restore the Merced River in the heart of Yosemite National Park is under review and already raising hackles.
The Park Service’s plan calls for restoring the Merced to its “Wild and Scenic” state by rearranging—and in some cases eliminating—riverside amenities in one of the most heavily used sections of the park, the East Yosemite Valley.
If the plan is approved in the fall, gone will be an ice skating rink, tennis court, swimming pools, raft and bike rentals, and horseback riding. Also to be removed will be an art center, snack stand, post office, bank and office buildings.
Additional lodging and campsites will be built, raising the number of campsites in the river corridor by 37 percent. New construction will also begin to streamline Yosemite’s notoriously snarled traffic and add an additional 461 day-use parking spaces, according to the plan’s Environmental Impact Statement.
After nine years of legal battles with conservation groups over the river’s management, park officials had been ordered by a 2009 court settlement to devise a new plan for the river by 2013. Whether this plan manages to escape further legal challenge is an open question.
Greg Adair, director of Friends of Yosemite Valley, one of the original litigants in the previous challenges, is not a supporter.
“What they've done is look at how much parking they can squeeze in the Yosemite Valley,” said Adair to the L.A. Times. “The plan should be focused on river-related recreation: bird watching, swimming, wading and hiking. It's not staying overnight in a hotel.”
Others on the opposite side of the debate, including Republican Congressman Tom McClintock, are equally unhappy.
“Congress did not intend for NPS to use the [Wild and Scenic Rivers] Act to justify limiting visitation, closing facilities and eliminating or curtailing historic uses that pre-date passage of the Act and the Merced River designation under the Act,” wrote McClintock in an open letter to the Park Superintendent.
Yosemite’s chief planner, Kathleen Morse, sees a need to balance these competing interests.
“The whole reason we are struggling with this is we want people to have maximum enjoyment of the park,” she told the L.A. Times. “The park is for the people. We want them to bring their rafts, bring their bikes, bring their gear. There will be no change of the suite of activities they can enjoy.”