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Controversial Merced River Plan Finally Approved

Merced River with El Capitan in the Background
Merced River with El Capitan in the BackgroundiStock Photos

Update February, 2014

It looks like it may finally be happening.

After many years of back and forth comments, numerous plans and even court battles, Yosemite National Park is unveiling the Merced Wild and Scenic River Final Comprehensive Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement.

Read the plan here:

“This plan will protect the Merced River and its outstandingly remarkable values into perpetuity and provide quality visitor facilities and access,” Don Neubacher, Yosemite superintendent, said in a press release. “The planning process has been a monumental effort and we appreciate all the public input we have received. We now want to move forward with actions in the Plan that are critical to the preservation and enjoyment of this iconic national treasure.”

Protection of Natural Areas vs. Public Recreation

Back in 1987, the Merced River was declared a Wild and Scenic River by Congress, a title that protects the river extensively, including preserving “its free flowing condition, water quality and outstandingly remarkable values.” That designation requires that Yosemite National Park follow strict guidelines to protect the 81 miles of river that flow through the park.

However, the public also wants a chance to enjoy this river, a prerogative often at odds with the goals to protect it. Although two previous plans failed, all parties hope that this latest iteration of a protection plan will sufficiently meet the strict protection criteria while also allowing park visitors to recreate in and along the Merced River. More than 60 public meetings in the park and throughout the state led to what all parties hope is the final plan.

“We spent thousands of hours reading and responding to comments to make sure we understood everyone’s concerns. The preferred alternative was modified to accommodate many of the changes requested during the public review,” Kathleen Morse, Yosemite Chief of Planning, said in an official statement. “This final plan integrates the ideas of a passionate public with proven stewardship practices and the best available science to create a powerful vision for the future of the Merced River and Yosemite Valley.”

Highlights of the New Plan

  • 40 percent increase in campground space
  • Five percent more lodging
  • More efficient parking and traffic flow and the restoration of roughly 200 acres of meadow and riparian areas
  • Ice skating, biking and rafting will still be allowed on the river, although the Curry Ice Rink and the rafting concessions will move back from the river corridor
Merced River Plan

Key: Blue = Recreational Segment, Green = Wild Segment, Red = Scenic Segment

April, 2013

Yosemite National Park’s Merced River Plan is raising eyebrows and causing an eruption of public outcry. Totaling 2,500 pages, the document calls for the removal of numerous structures, landmarks and recreational facilities in order for Yosemite to better comply with a section of the Wild and Scenic River Act that calls for the removal or relocation of facilities deemed unnecessary for public use.

Among the many things currently slated for removal are the Ahwahnee Swimming Pool and Tennis Court,Yosemite Lodge Swimming Pool, Art Activity Center, Curry Village Ice Skating Rink, bike rentals and commercial horseback day rides.

While some may be happy about the strict regulations called for in the plan, others feel that the proposal is too harsh. An editorial in the Mercury News certainly falls into the latter camp.

“The park shouldn’t be taking away the fun,” the News printed. “Many of these features are part of park history and have a negligible effect on the land. Generations of families have made memories skating and rafting in the shadow of Half Dome, forging a connection to Yosemite that lasts a lifetime and builds support for parks. The pools keep kids cool on spring days when the river is unsafe for swimming. And it’s ridiculous to get rid of bike rentals. Cycling is an ideal, non-polluting way to see the park.”

The plan also includes the removal of the Sugar Pine Bridge, a structure built in 1928. Although the bridge is recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, its obstruction of water flow has caused conservationists to cry for its demolition.

So what do you think? Read more about the specifics of the Merced River Plan on the website. Then, let your voice be heard by submitting your comments to the National Park Service here.