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Yosemite flood initiates facelift: relocation of park facilities allows native habitat to return.

Yosemite National Park, Calif. -- One of the most heavily visited national parks in America has just released a major proposal designed to preserve its resources more effectively and enhance the visitor's experience by removing non-essential facilities, restoring habitat, and reducing private auto access.

Still recovering from last year's flood, Yosemite National Park will use rehabilitation and cleanup funds, roughly $176 million, to revamp Yosemite Valley's congested infrastructure -- a process under consideration since Yosemite's general management plan emerged in 1980. In the last 20 years, Yosemite's visitation has more than doubled to 4.2 million annually, with more than 7,000 cars inching through the park at peak times. Traffic severely threatens the valley's natural resources by increasing air pollution and demanding more parking lots, bridges, and roads. Visitors have parked in meadows and along sensitive waterways rather than continue to circle the valley in hopes of finding a legal spot. Such congestion and overdevelopment continues to erode the quality of the visitor experience.

"We're trying to reduce the human footprint at Yosemite," says Scott Gediman, chief of Yosemite's public information office and a park ranger. "People come here to see our beautiful meadows and cascading waterfalls, not wait a half hour in line for a Coke."

Dubbed Yosemite's Valley Implementation Plan (VIP), the rehabilitation process calls for the removal of all non-essential development from the valley and the restoration of 147 acres of natural habitat in its place. "Within a few years, the visitor will experience a more natural Yosemite Valley," says NPCA Pacific Regional Director Brian Huse, "where development is reduced and the breathtaking natural features once again dominate the setting." Specifics of the plan include the removal of administrative facilities, employee housing, roads, and parking lots. Remaining development will be relocated out of the floodplain of the Merced River, allowing riparian habitat to return. In addition, an in-valley transportation system will replace the need for day-use visitors to wait for parking spaces.

Incorporating floodplain maps, geological data, and changing visitor use patterns, the VIP will focus on how to effectively circulate 4 million-plus visitors through Yosemite while providing an experience dominated by the majesty of the park rather than the distraction of gridlock. Experts hope that hiking, taking tour trams, and riding bikes will become the preferred alternatives to auto touring through the park, especially with several roads to be transformed into bike paths.

An important component of the VIP will be the park's involvement in the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation Strategy (YARTS). This coalition effort, composed of the National Park Service, US. Forest Service, California Department of Transportation, and the five counties surrounding Yosemite, has been formed to implement a regional transit system designed to address not only regional transportation needs, but also provide a simple means to move day-use visitors into Yosemite Valley. Day-use visitors will leave their cars outside the park and take buses into the valley. Those visitors planning to camp or stay in one of Yosemite's lodges will be allowed to drive into the park, but they must then use the shuttle system to travel throughout the valley.

"As the plan is phased in over the next three years," says Huse, "the Yosemite Valley experience will change from one of frustration, to one of over-whelming awe."
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Title Annotation:restoration and cleanup funds of $176 mil to be used to change the infrastructure, and drastically relieve automobile congestion
Author:Mackay, Katurah
Publication:National Parks
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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