New Yosemite National Park plan sets visitor limits

The Fresno BeeFebruary 14, 2014 

Ice skating, bicycle rentals and a vintage bridge will remain in Yosemite Valley under the $210 million Merced River protection plan released Friday by the National Park Service.

More than 15 years in the making -- including two previous efforts that courts rejected -- the plan calls for restoring 189 acres of meadows, re-routing traffic, adding camp sites and limiting visitors to a peak of 20,100 on busy days.

Yosemite National Park leaders say they dropped some ideas, such as removing the 1928 Sugar Pine Bridge, and added others in reaction to 30,000 comments over the last year.

"The planning process has been a monumental effort and we appreciate all the public input we have received," said park superintendent Don Neubacher.

The makeover will take place over the next 20 years in Yosemite Valley, which features panoramic views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and El Capitan. The park gets about 4 million visitors annually. All over the globe, Yosemite enthusiasts have been following this plan since the late 1990s.

The Friends of Yosemite Valley, an environmental activist group that challenged the park's first two plans in federal court, was not prepared to comment on the latest version, said director Greg Adair.

Federal courts ruled the first two plans did not have adequate visitor capacity numbers. Park officials invested in studies over the last few years to provide the number.

Over the last 18 months, business owners in surrounding communities opposed the proposed removal of the ice rink and Sugar Pine Bridge.

The ice rink will be relocated within Curry Village to get it out of the river corridor. The bridge will remain and officials will study ways to cope with the restricted flow problems that develop when the river is running high.

Other plan commenters were afraid they would lose the chance to bicycle in the valley and raft on the river. Those activities have not been removed. There also will be 174 camp sites added.

The National Parks Conservation Association, a watchdog for national parks, applauded Yosemite's effort.

"The park's proposal ensures that Yosemite will maintain its 'crown jewel' status," said Neal Desai, Pacific region director for the organization.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6316, mgrossi@fresnobee.com, or @markgrossi on Twitter.

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