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Appellate Court Rules Against Yosemite National Park


The Merced River and El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. Photo by vanallensb via flickr.

In a ruling (attached below) that stands to have wide implications, a federal appellate court has ruled against Yosemite National Park officials and their Yosemite Valley plan. Today's decision, say park officials, not only will halt more than $100 million in construction work on the valley floor but could lead to visitation limits in the scenic valley.

There's more than a bit of irony in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal's ruling, which centered on whether the park's development plan for the valley would illegally intrude on the wild and scenic Merced River. The Friends of Yosemite Valley long has maintained it would, and in the fall of 2006 convinced a federal judge that Yosemite's approach violated both the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

And yet, while the National Park Service long has understood its primary mission to be conserving natural, cultural, and historic resources, the 9th Circuit's ruling had Yosemite officials lamenting that they might have to limit visitation to the Yosemite Valley to protect the resources.

"The implications here for Yosemite and all national parks are huge," park spokesman Scott Gediman said in a story carried by The Associated Press. "Any further restrictions on visitors or further things we need to do because of this could potentially be detrimental to the visitors' experience, and detrimental to running the park."

This topic has been around a long time. It was spawned by the 1997 Merced River floods that scrubbed clean parts of the valley floor in Yosemite and got park officials thinking about a better layout for lodgings, campgrounds, and trails.


Why would anyone expect a sensible ruling from the 9th?

If you have ever traveled to Yosemite National Park, then you know that something has to be done in that valley. Out of all of the national parks, Yosemite is my least favorite because of the crowds. You simply can't escape the crowds, it is as simple as that. All of the other big parks that have too many visitors, such as Acadia and Smokey Mountains and Zion, have set themselves up so that, although there is congestion, it is relatively easy to escape the crowds and enjoy your experience. The only time I can reach Yosemite is in the dead of summer, height of tourist season, and it is DREADFUL. (And I am used to crowds, I live in on of the most crowded areas of the country!) The very lay out of of Yosemite, by design, crams everyone together and although the scenery is awesome... I can say without hesitation and without doubt that it is my LEAST favorite. If this particular plan has been shot down, which it obviously has been, I hope they keep trying to change the layout of the park. Something needs to be done, and if it isn't this plan, then choose something else and go back to court to fight for it. Until there is a change, I'm personally not going back.

There's only one way to limit Yosemite visitors: reserved tickets for entry. A limited number per day. No big block reservations.

Raise the fees, that will keep the numbers down, and the rif-raf out.

Raising the fees for the most admired parks will exclude that part of the people, that has the most limited options anyway. Limit the number of admissions by reserved tickets will lead to a secondary market of tickets with very much the same result. If the NPS wants to have even the most crowded parks open for all, they need to divert part of the visitors to secondary areas. In Yosemite that would mean to reduce the capacity of the valley and compensate by creating options elsewhere in the park.

At least returning visitors must be diverted out of the valley, as I doubt it will be possible to tell first time visitors not to go to Half Dome, El Capitan, the Merced meadows and of course the waterfalls.

The Wawona area can take more visitors. The Sequoias of Maripose Grove and Chilnualna Fall should be put in the foreground in marketing the park. The visitor capacity there should be expanded. Maybe that is possible with the Hetch Hetchy area too. The upper Tuolumne Meadows probably are ecologically too fragile to allow for mass tourism, but the White Wolf/Yosemity Creek/Porcupine Flat region might be another possible part of the park, where visitors could be diverted to.

To make this viable and relieve the valley, I believe, fast and reliable mass transport from those more remote areas into the valley is necessary. Have busses with good on board information systems go there.

This is an excellent ruling! We need to understand that " such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for future generations" means just what it says. The present NPS leadership seems to be placing visitors ahead of the resource. That's short sighted and damaging to the resource. Again, the courts got it right on this one!

Good! The less people the better I say!, It is less likely to interfere with Nature at it's best with Less People!


A reservations system works well for Denali National Park. The only entry into the park is by reserved seats on the bus, which must be made well in advance. And they aren't exactly cheap either. But it protects Denali from being overrun with vehicles and people.

Reservations are required for spaces on the boats to to Channel Islands National Park.

Boat tours are required to see Kenai Fjords National Park (and they are really expensive).

So a reservations system isn't impossible. I don't see block reservations being sold on E-Bay anymore than they are for the buses in Denali or for hotel reservations in Yosemite. You put down a credit card and make a reservation. The NPS couldn't require a reservation to enter via the Tioga Pass road, that's a state route and one of the only passes over the Sierra Nevada. But reservations to enter Yosemite Valley would be a workable solution.

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