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Truth About Yosemite

Yosemite Valley is a national treasure that was set aside in 1864 with the promise it would be preserved for the express purpose of “Public Use, Resort and Recreation.” Ever since, Americans have enjoyed a host of recreational opportunities and amenities as they have come to celebrate the splendor of the Valley.

Now, the National Parks Service, at the urging of leftist environmental groups, is proposing eliminating many of those amenities, including bicycle and raft rentals, horseback riding rentals, gift shops, snack facilities, swimming pools, and iconic facilities including the Ice Skating Rink at Curry Village, the art center and historic stone bridges that date back to the 1920’s.

For generations, these facilities have enhanced the enjoyment of the park for millions of visitors, adding a rich variety of recreational activities amidst the breathtaking backdrop of Yosemite. But today, the very nature and purpose of Yosemite is being changed from its original promise of “Public Use, Resort, and Recreation,” to an exclusionary agenda that can best be described as, “Look, but don’t touch.”

As public outrage has mounted, these leftist groups have found willing mouthpieces in the editorial boards of the left-leaning San Francisco Chronicle and Sacramento Bee. It is obvious their writers have either not read the report or are deliberately misrepresenting it to their readers.

They say the plan is designed to relieve overcrowding at the park. In fact, this plan compounds the overcrowding.

In 1997, flooding wiped out almost half the campsites at Yosemite Valley. Congress appropriated $17 million to replace those campsites. The money was spent. The campsites were never replaced. That’s causing the overcrowding – half the campsites for the same number of visitors. This plan would lock in a 30 percent reduction in campsites – and a 50 percent reduction in lodging – compared to the pre-flood era.

Three swimming pools in the Valley give visitors a safe place with lifeguards for their children to cool off in the summer. The Park Service wants to close two of them. That means packed overcrowding at the remaining pool, pushing families seeking water recreation into the Merced River.

They assure us they’re not eliminating all of the shops at Yosemite, but only reducing the number of them. Understand the practical impact on tourists: it means they must walk much greater distances to access these services and then endure long lines when they get there.

Another of their falsehoods is that the plan doesn’t ban services like bike rentals, but just moves them to better locations. The government’s own report puts the lie to this claim. It specifically speaks to “eliminating” and “removing” these services. It goes on to specifically state: “Over time, visitors would become accustomed to the absence of these facilities and would no longer expect them as a part of their experience in Yosemite.” Their intent could not possibly be any clearer.

We are assured that although bicycle rentals will be – and I am using the government’s word – “eliminated” – from the Valley in the interest of environmental protection, visitors will still be free to bring their own bikes. That invites an obvious question: what exactly is the environmental difference between a rented bicycle and a privately-owned bicycle?

We are assured, in the smarmy words of the Sacramento Bee, that the plan merely contemplates “relocating raft rentals, so they meet visitors at the river.” In truth, the plan specifically states that it will “Allow only private boating in this river segment,” and will limit total permits to 100 per day.

Mr. Speaker, every lover of Yosemite needs to read this report. It proposes breaking of the contract between the American people and their government that promised “public use, resort and recreation…for all time” when the park was established.

My district includes the Yosemite National Park and I represent the gateway communities that depend on park tourism to support their economies. The affected counties and communities are unanimous in their vigorous opposition to this plan and in a recent phone survey, the people of these communities – who are jealous guardians of Yosemite – expressed opposition to it in numbers well exceeding 80 percent.

Many things need to be done to improve gate access and traffic flow through the park. But destroying the amenities that provide enjoyment for millions of Yosemite visitors each year is not among them.