Big Changes Proposed for Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley | Photo: Victor Solanoy/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Bike rentals may become a thing of the past at Yosemite National Park, as the Park Service works toward finishing a management plan for the Merced River that will bring significant changes to the Yosemite Valley visitor experience.

The Merced Wild and Scenic River Draft Comprehensive Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, released Tuesday, is a document as extensive as its title that details several alternative land management plans inside and outside the Park which are intended to preserve the river's ecological, scenic, and historic character. And as much as the human interaction with the river occurs on the floor of Yosemite Valley, it makes sense that such a management plan would involve extensive modifications to the way people visit the Valley.

Under the plan's preferred alternative -- legalese for "what the Park Service really wants to do" -- the number of visitors to the Valley would be targeted at around 19,900 per day. That's about a thousand people fewer than visited on a typical day in 2011. Visitor numbers would be managed through day use parking permits and possible caps on entry to the Valley with visitors directed to other parts of the Park on crowded days.

That visitor limit, by the way, is there because of a successful lawsuit against two earlier versions of the plan filed by the group Friends of Yosemite Valley.

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Despite the limits, there are some proposed changes in Park management under the Park's preferred alternative that may make it easier to visit Yosemite Valley. About 600 day-use parking spaces would be added, and the Park Service would increase the number of campsites by about 35 percent -- though some existing campsites would be decommissioned to help restore the Merced's 100-year floodplain.

The preferred alternative also calls for construction of a pedestrian overpass to ease traffic near Yosemite Falls.

Among what will likely be unpopular proposed changes are the discontinuation of bicycle rentals at Yosemite Lodge and the demolition of the 90-year-old Sugar Pine Bridge across the Merced, which the latter project would be intended to help restore the river's natural flow patterns.

The public has until April to comment on the Merced River Wild and Scenic plan, which can be read on the National Park Service's Yosemite site.

Chris Clarke is an environmental writer of two decades standing. He writes from Joshua Tree regularly at his acclaimed blog Coyote Crossing and comments on desert issues on KCET weekly. Read his recent posts here.

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