YOSEMITE VALLEY PLAN: THE STORY AND THE PROCESS
With millions of visitors coming to Yosemite Valley each year, development and traffic congestion pressures continue to weigh heavily on this unique national treasure. The National Park Service’s mission, mandated by the Congress, is to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of same in such manner as will as leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Preserving the park’s natural and cultural resources in order to provide opportunities for visitor uses and enjoyment is key to planning for the future of Yosemite Valley.
BACKGROUND AND GOALS
The primary plan designed to guide the National Park Service in protecting and managing Yosemite National Park is the 1980 General Management Plan. This long-range plan for the entire park outlined five broad goals:
Reclaim priceless natural beauty
Reduce traffic congestion
Allow natural processes to prevail
Promote visitor understanding and enjoyment
The Yosemite Valley Plan aims to help carry out these goals and, in the process, to restore Yosemite Valley’s natural processes.
What is the Final Yosemite Valley Plan/SEIS?
The Final Yosemite Valley Plan/Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) is a consolidation of several planning efforts over the last two decades. It is a comprehensive document that presents and
analyzes four action alternatives and a No Action alternative for managing natural and cultural resources, facilities, and visitor experiences in Yosemite Valley. The Final Yosemite Valley Plan/SEIS was prepared
based on the guidelines of the National Environmental Policy Act and was preceded by a draft that was released for public comment and review in March 2000.
After the National Park Service’s Pacific West Regional Director signs a Record of Decision for the Final Yosemite Valley Plan/SEIS, the National Park Service would begin working to implement specific actions. The Yosemite Valley Plan would enable the National Park Service to move toward meeting the five broad goals of the 1980 General Management Plan in Yosemite Valley. In addition, the Merced River Plan zoning
requirements and management elements prescribed for the Merced River in Yosemite Valley would be met through implementation of the Yosemite Valley Plan.
Purpose of and Need for the Action
The Final Yosemite Valley Plan/SEIS was developed with these specific purposes in mind:
- Restore, protect, and enhance the natural and cultural resources
of Yosemite Valley
- Provide opportunities for high quality, resource-based visitor experiences
- Reduce traffic congestion
- Provide effective park operations, including employee housing,
to meet the mission of the National Park Service
Actions proposed in the Final Yosemite Valley Plan/SEIS recognize highly valued natural and cultural resource considerations, the importance of the Merced River floodplain, and rockfall hazards in managing for the future of Yosemite Valley. Because Yosemite Valley is only 1 mile wide with walls several thousand feet high, both the cliffs and river present potential hazards to people and development. Furthermore, floodplains and periodic flooding are a critical component of the natural Valley ecosystem. As such, federal policy requires that special consideration be given to areas that are within the regulatory floodplain. The Final Yosemite Valley Plan/SEIS addresses these important issues, building on scientific information, laws and policies and public involvement.
THE ROLE AND IMPORTANCE OF PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT
Public participation in the Yosemite Valley planning process is imperative to ensuring that the National Park Service understands and considers all relevant issues and concerns. During the preparation of the Draft and Final Yosemite Valley Plan/SEIS, public participation enabled the National Park Service to:
- Analyze and incorporate comments from previous planning efforts
- Define the range of issues to be addressed
- Provide opportunities for the public to obtain the knowledge necessary to make informed comments
- Collect public, American Indian, and agency comments on the Draft Yosemite Valley Plan/SEIS
- Produce the best possible plan
PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT ACTIVITIES
Over 6,000 public comments from previous Yosemite Valley planning efforts over the last 9 years were used in developing the Draft Yosemite Valley Plan/SEIS alternatives. During the public comment period on the Draft Yosemite Valley Plan/SEIS (March 28 through July 14, 2000), the National Park Service held 14 formal public meetings throughout California. In addition, public meetings were also held in Seattle, Washington; Denver, Colorado; Chicago, Illinois; and Washington, D.C. Yosemite National Park. Yosemite National Park received over 10,000 public comments during this period.
Numerous other public involvement activities were conducted by the National Park Service throughout the Yosemite Valley planning period, including:
- Planning Update newsletters to a mailing list of over 10,000 names.
- Sixty three open house sessions at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center
- Twenty six ranger-led interpretive walks discussing the Yosemite Valley Plan
- 10 wayside exhibits located near areas that could be affected by implementation of the plan
- Informational inserts in the park newspaper
Public participation will not end with the Final Yosemite Valley Plan/SEIS but would continue throughout the design and implementation phases of the Yosemite Valley Plan.
CHANGES IN FINAL YOSEMITE VALLEY PLAN/SEIS FROM DRAFT TO FINAL
The thousands of comments received by the National Park Service indicated what many liked about the Draft Yosemite Valley Plan/SEIS and what concerned some people. While considering public comments,
scientific data, the 1980 General Management Plan goals, and applicable laws and policies, the National Park Service carefully reviewed the draft plan and made some revisions that were incorporated into the final
plan. Many concerns emerged as the plan progressed. Below are two examples of changes from the draft to final plan:
#1 Emphasize overnight stays in Yosemite Valley that are unique to a traditional national park experience (instead of motel-type units similar to those available outside the park). Because of this concern, more rustic accommodations in the Valley were retained in the final plan. The number of campsites, Housekeeping Camp units, and Curry Village tent cabins were increased over the draft plan proposals, and the character of Yosemite Lodge would be changed from motel units to a more cabin-type or lodge experience.
#2 To reduce potential land development within Yosemite National Park, provide out-of-Valley parking outside the park boundary. With this in mind, the National Park Service would place a priority on participating in a public/private partnership to develop out-of-Valley parking on private property in the Hazel Green area adjacent to the park near the Big Oak Flat Entrance along Highway 120. Public/private partnerships would also be given a priority for meeting employee housing needs.
IMPLEMENTING THE PLAN: CHANGES TO COME
It would take more than a decade to fully implement over 250 actions associated with the Yosemite Valley Plan. The National Park Service expects projects to be accomplished sequentially. As funding is secured and projects progress through site planning, regulatory compliance, public comment, and design, more specific implementation information would be available.
When implemented, actions in the Yosemite Valley Plan would provide for natural and cultural resource protection, restoration programs, visitor services and facilities, and park operations. The relocation of some facilities outside Yosemite Valley and measures for managing vehicle traffic and congestion would also occur. The following highlight changes visitors would find in Yosemite Valley in the years to come.
- Visitors would have the choice of driving their own vehicle or parking at an out-of-Valley location and riding a shuttle bus.
- A new visitor center would be located near the day-visitor parking area and transit center so visitors could easily find it.
- Visitors would experience less traffic congestion on the busiest days.
- More interpretive programs would be offered.
- Visitors would find more pedestrian and bicycle trails.
NATURAL RESOURCE RESTORATION
- Disturbed areas along the Merced River’s edge would be restored to highly valued riparian habitat.
- Removing fill and re-establishing the natural contours of the land would restore natural wetlands in former developed areas.
- Ahwahnee and Stoneman Meadows would have road segments removed that currently divide and degrade the meadows, and the areas would be restored.
- Overnight visitors would still be able to drive into Yosemite Valley and park at their lodging or campsite.
- Day visitors to Yosemite Valley would park at the 550-space day- visitor parking area in Yosemite Village or would use an out-of-Valley parking area and take a shuttle bus into the Valley during the busiest seasons.
- Shuttle bus service would be expanded in the east Valley and new service would be provided in the west Valley.
- Until all shuttle buses become accessible, visitors with disabilities would be able to drive into Yosemite Valley.
- Some lodging would be removed or relocated from highly valued natural resource areas, such as meadows and riparian areas.
- Yosemite Lodge motel units that are in the floodplain would be removed and the area restored to natural conditions.
- Emphasis would be placed on retaining and/or rebuilding traditional national park accommodations.
- Housekeeping Camp would have 100 units, which would be set back at least 150 feet from the Merced River.
- Curry Village would retain rustic tent cabins and cabins without baths in order to maintain the area’s historic character. Some tent cabins in the rockfall zone would be removed.
- Campgrounds would be redesigned to include more varied camping experiences, including tent camping, RV camping, walk-in campsites with parking nearby, and walk-to campsites with no associated parking.
- Some campsites would have utility hook-ups, thus reducing noise from generators.
- Shower facilities would be built in some campgrounds.
HOW WOULD THE YOSEMITE VALLEY PLAN PROJECTS BE PAID FOR?
A variety of funding sources would be used to implement the Yosemite Valley Plan, including:
- Existing flood recovery funds appropriated by Congress for the January 1997 Merced River flood in the Valley
- Funding from the fee demonstration program (which allows camping and entrance fees collected in Yosemite to remain in the parkπs budget)
- Private philanthropy for some projects
- Additional appropriations would be needed. Opportunities would also be sought to work with private parties to develop facilities such as parking outside Yosemite National Park and employee housing, which would affect funding.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
The National Park Service still needs the public’s involvement as Yosemite National Park begins to implement the Yosemite Valley Plan. Here’s how to help:
- Sign up to be on the Yosemite planning mailing list to stay informed about what is happening in the park.
- Become involved in future opportunities for formal public comment, such as further site planning for areas affected by Yosemite Valley Plan projects.