No Thru Traffic: Yosemite
Friday, November 10, 1997

You expect to be caught in traffic in the middle of the city at 5pm on a Friday, but in a national park?

Traffic jams happen regularly during peak season in California's Yosemite National Park, resulting in numerous closures of the front gates due to "gridlock in the Valley." But, all that may change as early as 1999 if a proposal released this week gets approval.

In the preferred plan of action, the National Park Service has proposed eliminating cars from the Yosemite Valley. Instead, park administrators plan to offer a comprehensive shuttle system of alternatively fueled buses for visitor access into the valley. This, coupled with other changes would allow for the restoration of 147 acres of valley meadows--the equivalent of 100 football fields.

Such drastic changes would, in the words of the Park Service, "reduce the human footprint on the Valley."

This restoration would be achieved by removing roads, bridges, the 2,500 day-use parking spots and accompanying facilities and other structures, relocating campsites out of sensitive areas, and relocating park headquarters and other "non-essential" buildings outside the valley.

Since its designation as a national park in 1890, Yosemite has become the largest outdoor drive-in in the world, getting 4 million visitors a year. Over the years, the park has been "altered" to accommodate the masses — parking lots, hotels, tennis courts, bridges that impede natural river flow, etc. But, the Park Service has long been aware of the natural destruction these comforts have meant. The Service, along with members of the public, developed a general management plan 17 years ago to restore nature and remove or relocate visitor/employee structures away from environmentally sensitive areas.

In an overview of The Yosemite Valley Implementation Plan released last week, Stanley Albright, park superintendent says "the time to act is now." It's never too late. The Park Service has asked the public's input over the past 20 years and drafted a number of plans, the proposed action is "Alternative 2" under the umbrella of Yosemite Valley: A Vision for the 21st Century.

"This alternative is designed to greatly reduce traffic congestion, maximize conversion of currently developed areas within the Valley to natural open space, and minimize impacts to Valley resources by redesigning and relocating visitor and employee accommodations and facilities," the plan states.

Specifically, the plan proposes to remove parking areas; expand shuttle service using alternative-fuel powered buses; restoring hiking and biking trails; removing the Ahwahnee Hotel's tennis courts, removing housing to restore a Black oak woodland area, relocating lodgings, removing roads, removing bridges and restoring riverbanks, and establishing protective buffers in which no development can take place.

The proposed action is open to public comment and a final plan will be developed and approved by the park superintendent in mid-1998 with implementation to begin soon after.

-- Sarah Love, Mountain Zone Staff

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