There was a letter to the editor in the Merced Sun Star recently from a visitor to Yosemite National Park. This letter pointed out a negative experience the writer had during a visit in early August. The writer called out those who littered the park with their trash, showed blatant disregard for safety near dangerous waterfall sites, and engaged in a general lack of civility among the crowds.
I was in the Park the same day. I saw most of what the letter writer saw. I can add to the list the seeming lack of any real enforcement of Park rules by the Rangers.
Other than the Ranger who told us to pay on the way out (following a one hour delay getting through the Route 140 entrance), and the Ranger who took our money as we left the Park later in the day, I saw no one from the staff during our visit.
With fourteen deaths in the Park so far this year, I’m sure those on duty were working hard to keep the rest of us safe. I just didn’t see them. And we could have used them.
No one was at the visitor landing beneath Bridal Veil to enforce the Danger signs. No one was near the bridge overlooking the falls at Yosemite Valley. No one was patrolling the areas where walkers and bicyclists were using the same trails.
Parking was another problem. I raise the question as to whether there is a Park management index that ties cars coming through the gates to available parking spots throughout the Park. It sure didn’t look like it.
I think the problem boils down to one issue: too many people are in the Park’s popular venues at the same time. There’s got to be a plan to address the increasing attendance.
I’d hate to see restrictions on the numbers coming through the gates, but it’s becoming more and more clear that this vast wilderness Park needs some modern day upgrades.
Begin with adequate parking at the popular venues by encouraging use of available mass transit with maybe an incentive to use it. Develop a communication system that could email an enrolled prospective visitor with a crowd conditions report based on attendance counts at the gate.
Don’t go on Oprah to encourage more people to come in when you’re challenged to handle the crowds that currently come.
With my comments about logistics now one the record, let’s not lose sight of the central issue. Yosemite is an international crown jewel. It should be seen by everyone. It needs to be protected.
As I wrote in 9 From 99, Experiences in California’s Central Valley, “I cannot do justice to documenting the stories that comprise the history and visitor experiences of Yosemite.
There are many resources.
The PBS Ken Burns documentary The National Parks, America's Best idea...the photography of Ansel Adams..(or) just type in Yosemite on Google...You could spend the rest of your life reading about this unique part of Califonia."
"But I recommend you take your eyes off the computer and find a way to see it for yourself."
Steve Newvine lives in Merced.