Community invited to give input at meeting next Saturday at the Minaret Mall
The Tuolumne River that runs alongside the Tioga Pass Road on the west side of the pass and the Merced River in Yosemite Valley are lined with cabins and resort structures, trails, and bike paths.
The two rivers were also recently designated as federal Wild and Scenic Rivers, in an attempt to preserve their beauty and ecological integrity into perpetuity.
The problem is, there is already a lot of human activity near the rivers.
So what is a national park—in this case Yosemite National Park which is charged with both preserving the original beauty and function of the ecosystems within its boundaries and with allowing human access to the natural features—to do?
Make a plan, of course.
The draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) plans for both rivers was released a few weeks ago. It includes proposals which include restoring meadows that have been damaged, removing structures from areas close to the river, relocating campground entrance roads out of the floodplain, and more.
To add to the visitor experience, the park is proposing adding new visitor centers, increasing parking at popular trailheads and making trails more accessible.
What’s raising eyebrows in Mono County, though, is two seemingly innocuous items—removing commercial horseback riding concessionaires and bike rentals from the valley floor.
Private bikes and private individual and group horseback riding will still be allowed.
Removing the option to rent or purchase such services could negatively impact visitors who come to Mammoth and/or Mono County and who want to visit the park, according to county tourism director Alicia Vennos, since many such visitors will bring neither horses nor bikes with them.
“There will be no more day horse ride trips, only backcountry and overnight trips,” she said.
But she also said a Thursday conference meeting with park officials was positive.
“It was informative and we felt positive about it,” she said. “But it’s very important that the public attend the meeting next week (see breakout box) and make their views heard.”
A Yosemite National Park planner said the park has good reason to consider such a move.
“There are three reasons we had to take a hard look and make choices about the facilities currently located in the river corridors (a quarter mile on each side of the river),” said Kathleen Morse, Yosemite National Park’s planning division chief.
“First, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act directs us to review all facilities in the corridor and determine if they are necessary for public use,” she said.
“If they are not necessary, they must be removed from the river corridor. If they are necessary, we need to determine whether they can be relocated. If they can’t be relocated, we need to mitigate any effects they are having on river values. While bike rentals and day rides are enjoyable, they are not really necessary for public use.
“Second, in the 2008 court decision on the Merced River Plan litigation, the judge included a footnote that pointed out the plethora of commercial activities present in the Merced River corridor and alluded to the fact that they represented ‘degradation.’ The court was basically telling us we needed to take a hard look at everything that was going on in the river corridor and make some choices about what should continue.
“Finally, when we look at all of the physical and biological constraints in the Valley (rockfall hazard zone, floodplain, meadow and riparian protection, topography, etc.) the space to locate visitor services is quite limited. Therefore, it comes down to trade-offs. We can have many things in the Valley, but we can’t have everything everywhere.”
Morse did add some hope for those worried about losing some bike and horseback options in the park.
“One last note … there may be places outside the river corridor where we could locate some smaller, dispersed facilities, such as bike stands. We are looking at those options and we would like to hear more ideas from the public as they review all of the features of the preferred alternative.”