Blog Post Emily Schrepf Apr 3, 2013

Take Action to Protect Yosemite Valley’s Wild and Scenic Merced River

There are few places better known or more loved than Yosemite National Park. As a transplanted Californian originally from Iowa, it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I first emerged from the park’s famous Tunnel View to the jaw-dropping, iconic sight of El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls rising from the Valley floor and Half Dome shining in the background.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come out of that tunnel now, but the novelty hasn’t worn off. Yosemite is the first place I take family and friends who visit from the Midwest, and it never fails to transform each of them in some way, as I believe it does for everyone who visits.

Today, I am asking people around the country to take action to help protect this majestic valley, as much for my personal love of Yosemite as my professional role to help protect the park for future generations.

My friends, family, and I are just a few of the four million people from around the world who visit Yosemite each year, mostly during the busy summer season. This enormous number of visitors during just a few months’ time means that park officials must manage large crowds while maintaining strong protections for the park’s outstanding resources—a significant challenge. Officials must adhere to many management guidelines, but one of the most important is commonly referred to as the Merced River Plan.

In 1987, Congress provided a Wild and Scenic River designation to 81 miles of the Merced River within Yosemite. The goal of this designation–the highest level of protection awarded to a river—is to preserve the Merced’s free-flowing condition and to protect and enhance its unique values that deemed it worthy of the designation. Like any body of water, a river’s health is not just about the water itself, but the riverbank and surrounding area that directly impact its vitality. In the case of the Merced River, this means that large portions of Yosemite Valley are key to its protection.

Unfortunately, for the last 13 years, Yosemite has been unable to proceed with crucial changes in infrastructure and management because the Merced River planning process has been held up by litigation. The good news is that the park has recently released a new version of the plan. NPCA supports the park’s preferred alternative (listed as alternative five in the planning documents), which is also the environmentally preferred alternative. This management strategy strikes a reasonable balance between protecting resources and delivering a quality visitor experience. It also provides a compromise for groups who have challenged versions of the plan over the years, potentially allowing this multi-million dollar process to move forward.

NPCA supports the preferred alternative of the Merced River Plan because it will maintain access for all visitors, near and far, but will also increase access to public transportation, making infrastructure changes that will decrease congestion in Yosemite Valley while allowing the same number of visitors to visit and enjoy its many natural wonders. The preferred alternative calls for more camping facilities, allowing those of us on a budget who love the most pure sights, smells, and sounds of nature more options to stay overnight, while enhancing protections for the river corridor’s natural resources. More than 200 acres of meadow will be restored under the preferred alternative and, in time, the riverbank will return to a more natural state.

Because Yosemite National Park is beloved by so many who have different opinions about how to best manage the park’s iconic natural wonders, it’s impossible to completely satisfy everyone. I personally, and NPCA organizationally, hope that park officials will find a way to continue to provide bike rentals for Yosemite Valley and implement even more public transportation in and around the park. Although some detractors raise issues with controversial aspects of the plan, such as the elimination of certain swimming pools, an ice skating rink, and rafts for rent, it shouldn’t stop the plan’s approval. My mom doesn’t travel from Iowa to Yosemite to do the types of things she has available in her own backyard. She comes to walk among the big trees, marvel at the sheer granite walls, feel the spray of waterfalls on her face. I support this Merced River Plan because it means that someday her grandchildren will be able to do the same.

You can tell Yosemite’s planners that you support the plan as well by taking action on NPCA’s website. (Note: The last day to comment is April 18, 2013.)