YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK -- In an otherworldly grove of cinnamon-colored giant sequoias, workers in June will jackhammer an old mistake: a road and parking lot that impinge on the hallowed forest.
The $36 million project, which includes dismantling a gift shop, removing a tourist tram and adding elevated walkways, will improve visitors’ experiences while better protecting some of the oldest, largest and most beautiful organisms on earth, said Dean Shenk, a supervisory ranger at Yosemite National Park.
The National Park Service will contribute about $8 million to the project, and the Federal Highway Administration will spend another $8 million for an improved road to the grove and an expanded parking lot at Yosemite’s southern entrance. The bulk of the cost, $20 million, will be covered by the Yosemite Conservancy, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco.
Philanthropic organizations are funneling millions of dollars into the nation’s national parks, making infrastructure improvements, building trails and providing volunteers.
The National Park Service’s 2014 budget of $2.98 billion is smaller than in any in the past five years, said Jonathan Jarvis, director of the service.
“Because our budget is in decline, we’ve not been able to do the things we feel we should be doing,” he said.
Yosemite National Park consists of 1,200 square miles of skip-a-heartbeat terrain, including, near its southern entrance, Mariposa Grove, one of the few natural forests of giant sequoia in the world.
For generations these trees have endured man’s folly. In the 1800s they were chopped for shingles, posts, pencils and souvenirs. Tunnels were carved through others. For 100 years, Yosemite rangers doused fires, before learning that these redwoods – with fire-resistant bark – need fire to punch holes in the forest canopies, clear soil and spread seeds the size of oat flakes.
Also harmful, Yosemite added a parking lot and a road, not recognizing that pavement interferes with the hydrology of the nearly 2,000-year-old trees.
By rerouting walkways, tourists will no longer trample shallow roots, and by removing the road, the diversion of water from the trees will end.
The newly designed grove, as envisioned by landscape architects paid by the Yosemite Conservancy, is expected to be a quieter and more spiritual place.
“We want it to be like you’re entering a cathedral, so you have respect for the trees,” said Sue Beatty, a Yosemite restoration ecologist and deputy project manager. The problem, she said, “We didn’t have the money to do it.”