Washington, DC — A Congressional hearing today in Washington, DC looked at the impacts of the proposed Merced River Plan in Yosemite National Park.
The National Park Service is hoping to return the Merced River to a more free flowing state, so many of the amenities in the river corridor of Yosemite Valley would be removed or shifted to other locations. Head of the NPS, Mike Jarvis, stated that the goal was to balance “preservation and public access.” Two previous attempts to complete a Merced River Plan were shot down in court battles, dating back to August of 2000. It was noted that some of the details included in the third plan were the result of a settlement agreement.
Controversial aspects of the Park Service’s preferred alternative calls for the elimination of some bike rentals, horseback offerings, a skating rink, pool, tennis courts, art store, and the historic Sugar Pine Bridge. An adamant opponent of the new plan has been Republican Congressman Tom McClintock, whose district covers the park. “The NPS proposal would remove long-standing tourist facilities from Yosemite Valley,” he said at the hearing. “These facilities date back generations, and provide visitors with a wide range of amenities to enhance their stay at, and enjoyment of, this world renowned national park.”
Democratic Congressman John Garamendi, who previously represented the Mother Lode while in the state legislature, felt these were small issues to be concerned about since many of these amenities would likely be moved to other locations of the park, just not in the river corridor. “If we’re down to just horses, bikes, rafting, and ice skating, wow, a lot of progress has been made,” he said. “I remember when everyone couldn’t even decide if there would be buses in the Valley, but they are now in place. I want to commend the Park Service for their efforts in moving this along.”
On the issue of horseback riding, McClintock added that it would have a negative impact on disabled residents that use this service.
Fresno Democratic Congressman Jim Costa shared many of McClintock’s concerns about removing long standing amenities. “I think it is important to maintain biking activity and horseback riding activity,” he said. “Ice skating during the winter in the outdoors is also one of the unique experiences at Yosemite National Park.”
Bob Asquith of Groveland flew in to speak at the hearing. While he said the plan may not be perfect, he applauded the NPS for their efforts. He praised the science used to conduct the plan, and indicated that foothill communities could benefit from the end result. He feels that some of the services and amenities that would no longer be available in the park could be picked up by Gateway communities, such as Groveland. For example, if there are fewer swimming pools in the Yosemite Valley, it could create more demand for swimming opportunities in the foothill communities. “It is not lost forever, but displaced into another area,” said Asquith. “The business would be welcomed in those communities,” he added.
When questioned about the controversial proposal of removing the historic Sugar Pine Bridge, used by many visitors in the park, NPS leader Jarvis stated, “The Sugar Pine Bridge is essentially a funnel for the Merced River. It constricts it, and anytime you constrict a river like that during flood conditions, you accelerate its speed and it causes significant erosion downstream.” Jarvis compared it to “turning on a fire hose.”
Jarvis reported that 30 thousand people have commented on the latest Merced River Plan and 20 thousand have been in favor. However, Congressman McClintock had a poll during a telephone town hall meeting with foothill communties, and he said he found that 80 percent were against.
Some local municipalities, such as the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors, have written letters criticizing aspects of the plan.
The National Park Service plans to release its final version by the end of the year.
(You can also see Congressman McClintock’s recent myMotherLode.com blog entry on the topic, entitled “Keep Yosemite Tourist Friendly,” by clicking here)