Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton took to the air in a helicopter to view Yosemite National Park from the above Thursday. Norton celebrated Earth Day 2004, by touring the Park, participating in park Earth Day activities and meeting with National Park Service employees. Norton toured the former Cascades Diversion Dam, Yosemite Valley, Indian Village and Lower Yosemite Fall.
“Earth Day is every day in our national parks,” Norton said. “The way we use and care for these national treasures not only affects the natural environment, but helps shape the pattern of our daily lives.”
Yosemite National Park Superintendent Michael Tollefson accompanied the Secretary during her tour. He explained the progress being made on the park maintenance backlog and the operations and importance of the recently installed fuel cell that provides about one-third of the electricity to the NPS administration building.
Tollefson noted that the fuels cell project was accomplished through the work of several partners, including the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory of the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Fuel cells provide clean, quiet and efficient energy, and Yosemite will continue to explore other uses throughout the park.
The Interior Secretary got a firsthand look at the area where the former nonfunctioning Cascades Diversion Dam was removed by NPS to allow the
Merced Wild and Scenic River to flow freely through this previously impeded stretch of the river in the park. The project is ongoing, with work being done on restoration of the riverbank in the park area.
Norton toured the Lower Yosemite Fall, a landmark project being completed in partnership with the Yosemite Fund. The Fund has spearheaded the contribution of more than $12 million to this project, which is designed to improve the visitor experience at Lower Yosemite Fall. A major component of the project calls for providing complete compliance under the Americans with Disability Act on the eastern trail, creating a more natural and enjoyable experience to one of Yosemite´s most popular areas.
“The efforts here at Yosemite reflect the commitment President Bush made to improve and protect national parks,” Norton said. “It is through partnerships and working with our many volunteers that we are able to preserve the special character and interpret the many unique features this rare jewel has to offer.”
National Park ranger Kathy Dimont summed up the park´s acknowledgement of Earth Day. “Just look around,” she said moving her hand towards Half Dome and El Capitan. “That´s the significance of Earth Day.”
Yosemite National Park has 65 projects under its park maintenance backlog efforts for a total investment of about $70 million. These projects include replacing a sewer system that was installed in 1939, improving the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, restoring trails, providing accessibility for disabled visitors, preserving historic structures and meeting building code standards.
Norton also visited the Earth Day restoration project in the Indian Village, a project that focuses on stream bank restoration, removal of invasive plants and the rehabilitation of native flora.
The first Earth Day was observed April 22, 1970. Since that time is has become an annual event for people around the world to celebrate the Earth and demonstrate their appreciation and stewardship responsibility toward it. Norton noted that communities around the country are working together to build a better future for the environment.
“Preserving the natural beauty of our special places while enabling millions of people to enjoy them each year takes work—lots of it—by Interior employees, partner groups and volunteers,” Norton said. “As President Bush fulfills his pledge to restore the national parks, we urge all Americans to become citizen stewards dedicated to restoring and conserving public and private land—every day of the year.”
Meanwhile, President Bush has marked Earth Day by setting a goal of restoring or protecting some three million acres of wetlands over the next five years.
He says it´s time to go beyond the long-standing goal of just limiting the number of acres lost.
The president spoke after touring a salt marsh in Maine, accompanied by his mother Barbara. Bush told well-wishers he used to fish for bass just offshore with his father, who has a summer home in nearby Kennebunkport.