Editorial: Yosemite needs help, not political bloviation

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 16, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 8A

Yosemite Valley has a big problem with congestion.

The Merced River, which runs through the heart of the mile-wide Yosemite Valley, is at the core of the planning process for the future: How to deal with recurring flood issues – remember the flood of winter 1996-97? How to deal with the potential of significant rock falls – remember the 2008 Glacier Point rock fall? How to preserve and restore wild and scenic features of the river.

The National Park Service has come up with a draft plan that maintains current visitation in Yosemite Valley at 19,900 per day, increases current overnight lodging and campsites, and increases vehicle day-use capacity.

This is a major achievement, but you wouldn't know it from the July 9 U.S. House hearing misnamed "Public Impact of Closing Amenities at Yosemite National Park."

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, whose district includes Yosemite, used the hearing to lambaste what he called "radical changes" to Yosemite Valley coming from "the most radical and nihilistic fringe of the environmental left." He claimed that the park service plan aimed to "dramatically reduce the recreational amenities available to park visitors."

Not so. The park service is not planning to "ban" biking, rafting, ice skating and eating of ice cream cones in Yosemite Valley. It is, however, proposing to move them from the river corridor.

For example, instead of having an ice skating structure taking up space, why not flood a parking lot in the winter? Why not relocate rafting rentals, so they meet visitors at the river? Why not move some administrative structures elsewhere?

As Neil Desai of the National Parks Conservation Association told The Bee's editorial board, the draft plan offers a combination of consolidation, removal and relocation from the river corridor in order to reduce clutter and congestion and make better use of valuable space in Yosemite Valley.

That's a good thing.

Certainly the draft plan should revisit some proposals, such as removal of one of eight Yosemite Valley bridges built between 1921 and 1933. McClintock is right to question removal of this historic structure.

But in what can only be called grandstanding, McClintock insists that "the public is crying out for congressional intervention" to override the park planning process. In fact, some who testified at the hearing asked Congress to impose a "no action" option.

Yet that would relegate Yosemite Valley to the current congestion and clutter. Reasonable Americans understand that Yosemite National Park has to address traffic, parking and camping in a methodical, sustainable way.

The park service wants to review 30,000 comments, make changes and have a final plan by December. McClintock should turn down the volume and let that process proceed.

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