Things may look different next time you visit Yosemite National Park. No, the scenery hasn't been rearranged, but the way visitors approach one of the park's icons might make it seem that way.
On April 18, the Yosemite Fund and the National Park Service will mark the completion of a $13.5 million, 10-year overhaul of visitor facilities surrounding North America's highest waterfall, Yosemite Falls. The multiacre parking lot that served for decades as a visitor staging area is gone, replaced by open space, picnic areas, an education center, an amphitheater and new, stone-face restroom buildings. A wheelchair-accessible, three-quarter-mile loop trail replaces the out-and-back walkway leading to the Lower Falls viewing area.
It all adds up to an enhanced experience for visitors.
"We're anticipating that what used to be maybe a 30-to 45-minute experience for people to walk up, feel the spray and take a picture will turn into a two-hour experience," said Bob Hansen, president of the Yosemite Fund, a nonprofit foundation devoted to protecting the park.
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Yosemite Falls drops 2,425 feet, in two stages, from cliff-top heights to the valley below, creating a mighty roar and generating clouds of spray during the spring runoff season. The cascade is a major attraction for the park's 4 million annual visitors.
The 52-acre restoration project at the falls' base involved extensive habitat restoration, Hansen said. Some old paths and footbridges were removed, while others were rehabilitated to provide better views and redirect foot traffic. Alcoves, benches and interpretive exhibits were installed along scenic sightlines, and the Lower Falls viewing area was expanded.
Instead of simply walking from the parking lot to the cascades and back, "there are now many places where visitors can sit down and get connected with nature," Hansen said.
Aesthetics aside, the biggest change is in how visitors now approach the area. Tour buses and cars have been banished to a remote parking area where recently demolished employee housing once stood. Shuttle buses ferry people from there to a new stop just a short walk from Yosemite Lodge.
The change "has to do with the idea that people in the future will not use their cars to get around Yosemite Valley," Hansen said, referring to long-term plans that call for restricting traffic within the 7-square-mile, ecologically sensitive valley.
Most construction connected with the project has been completed, though a few elements remain to be installed before the April 18 dedication. For more information: (415) 434-1782 or www.yosemitefund.org.
Charlie Brown's town: Chicago started it in 1999 by planting painted cows around town, while San Francisco joined the public-art parade last year with a panoply of painted hearts. Now Santa Rosa, home for 45 years to the late "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Schulz, plans to honor its favorite son by placing 55 Charlie Brown statues around the city this summer. Each will be painted by a local artist and auctioned off in October.
The "It's Your Town, Charlie Brown" tribute marks the 55th anniversary of the cartoon strip. The program is modeled after a similar one in St. Paul, Minn., Schulz's home town.
For more information: www.PeanutsOnParade.com.
Trekking the Zampa: Maybe you've hiked the Golden Gate Bridge, but we bet you've yet to trek the Zampa. The first major suspension bridge to be built in the United States in three decades has been open to vehicle traffic for just over a year, but only recently has it become pedestrian-and bicycle-friendly. A new, 12-foot-wide pathway on the west side, open from sunrise to sunset, is most easily accessed from Maritime Academy Drive in Vallejo.
The 3,400-foot-long Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge, part of Interstate 80, crosses the Carquinez Straits between Vallejo and Crockett, about 25 miles northeast of San Francisco. It's one of four major spans in the Bay Area open to foot and bicycle traffic; the others are the Golden Gate, Dumbarton and Antioch bridges.
For more information: (800) 825-5356 or www.visitvallejo.com.
Almost ready in Redding: Turtle Bay Exploration Park, the ever-expanding conservation preserve on the Sacramento River in Redding, will unveil its latest attraction, the McConnell Arboretum & Gardens, on Memorial Day, May 30. The complex will feature 20 acres of Mediterranean-climate display gardens, along with a children's garden, a medicinal garden and water features.
The gardens are the fourth phase of the Turtle Bay complex to debut since 2002. The park's centerpiece Sundial bridge, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, opened in July to rave international reviews. Also on-site are a museum, butterfly garden and other family-friendly attractions.
Besides the new gardens, the arboretum encompasses 200 undeveloped acres with links to the Sacramento River Trail.
For more information: www.turtlebay.org or (800) 887-8532.
Other California news: If your spring travels will take you up Plumas County way, check out the suggested itineraries posted at www.plumascounty.org. Some trips are built around themes such as railroading, antiques or motorcycling, while others combine general sightseeing with seasonal attractions. ... Beginning June 30, Air New Zealand will offer nonstop service between San Francisco International Airport and Auckland. The 12-hour flights will depart on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. ... Tired of fighting San Francisco-bound traffic on Interstate 80? One way to take some stress out of the trip is to take a ferry from Vallejo. A 135-foot, passenger-only high-speed catamaran, the MV Solano, recently has been added to the Bay Link Ferry fleet. For information: (877) 64-FERRY (643-3779) or www.baylinkferry.com. ... The first spa in the nation to cater specifically to pregnant women and their spouses has opened in Larkspur. Barefoot & Pregnant offers seminars, exercise classes and spa treatments for expecting parents and parents of infants; www.barefootandpregnant.com or (415) 388-1777.
Yuk-yuk: A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The flight attendant looks at him says, "Sorry, sir, only one carrion per passenger allowed."