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What Outstanding Values Are Tied to the Merced River in Yosemite National Park?


The Merced River can mean different things to different people, in part depending upon where in Yosemite National Park they view it. In the Yosemite Valley, the river is both a raging cataract and a placid stream.

The Merced is a place to gather along the shoreline for a picnic, or to float down the middle of it in a tube or raft on a lazy summer's day.

In the weeks and months ahead the National Park Service will be working on identifying the "outstanding remarkable values" that should be attributed to the river as they develop a management plan for the section of river that flows through the Yosemite Valley.

Designated a "wild and scenic river" in 1987, park officials must protect the Merced's outstanding remarkable values, its stream flows, and its water quality. Differing views over those points have long delayed an updated management plan for the Yosemite Valley, as groups that opposed the Park Service's proposals successfully battled the agency in the court system.

It was late last September when the Park Service and the Friends of Yosemite Valley and Mariposans for the Environment and Responsible Government settled their differences over the Merced River Plan and agreed to stop sending their lawyers to court. The gist of the litigation -- which claimed the Park Service was allowing inappropriate development to intrude upon the wild and scenic river corridor-- began shortly after Yosemite officials completed their first Merced Wild and Scenic River Comprehensive Management plan in August 2000.

In taking another run at developing a plan for the Yosemite Valley, the Park Service is holding a number of meetings in the coming weeks to discuss the Merced River's outstanding remarkable values. Presentations will be followed by discussion sessions with project staff and subject matter experts.

Not only are these meetings designed to explain how the Park Service is working to identify the river's values, but there will be a question-and-answer session and you'll be able to share your ideas of the river's outstanding values. There also will be discussion of methods that can be used for assessing the condition of each outstanding remarkable value and how those values can be protected and even enhanced.

These meetings get under way June 28 at the San Ramon City Hall, in San Ramon, California. For a schedule of locations and meeting times, visit this site.


Some values of the Merced River include: Aesthetic, cultural (for the natives that used it as a life source), environmental, natural (if kept in it's natural condition), recreational (fishing, hiking, sightseeing, bird watching, wildlife viewing, mountain biking), emotional (the Merced River below El Capitan is inspiring) and sociological (for those who seem to hang out, or "party" by the river, they benefit from socializing.

If the park service is considering developing the Merced river to serve the public, I think that they should consider the case of the Everglades, where in the past development has resulted in a great loss of (bird) habitat, and water was taken from the Everglades to (and serve surrounding areas, leaving the Everglades a desert like environment. I would hate to see the same fate befall Yosemite.

Thank you, Kurt, for posting this article. As you said, differing views over those points have long delayed an updated management plan for the Yosemite Valley. Groups that opposed the Park Service's proposals successfully battled the agency in the court system.

Differing views over how to manage Yosemite Valley were brought before the Judicial branch of government, where all views could be represented in a court of law. The Department of Justice sided with the plaintiffs (David) against the Park Service (The Giant).

The plaintiffs were a combination of grass roots Yosemite enthusiasts who opposed what has been called a “mission creep” mentality within the National Park Service. Some say the Park Service wants to implement a “cookie cutter” management style in all of the National Parks, with Yosemite being their main showplace, where a conveyor belt like experience could allow any number of visitors on a busy day.

Outstanding and Remarkable Values (“ORVs”) of the Merced River Plan is a part of the planning process that should help identify what is valued there, what can and should be protected, and what recreations are also valued, which people believe should be allowed to continue. By doing so, this plan should establish the ground work for the next stage of planning. I assume and hope that this next stage will be that of a “user (or carrying) capacity”, that establishes a limit of people allowed into Yosemite Valley on any given day; something that The Park Service failed to address in the past planning effort.

If someone, a newspaper, or any conservation type of group, wants to gain favor with The Park Service, all they have to suggest is that there must be a way of managing the park in such a way that will “allow all who want to come”, so as to “not turn anyone away”, quote from two former Yosemite Park Superintendants. After all, the Park Service is here to “serve”; and herein lies the problem.

My question is, how is it that both sides of that litigation agreed not to pursue each other any longer in court before actually knowing, or establishing, any common ground on such important decisions of the ORVs, or the actual number of people allowed into Yosemite Valley on a busy summer day via a well crafted “carrying capacity”?

How weighted will the ORV be toward camping versus day trippers, or preservation, versus human impacts? How many campsites and campgrounds will be allowed? How much river degradation can be allowed for recreation, versus how many shuttle buses will be put into play that could potentially manage any future level of visitation via a conveyor belt visitor experience? Will visiting Yosemite Valley be elbow to elbow at every photo stop, with three buses unloading while three buses depart?

Will there be a new method of managing impacts which may in fact look, walk, and quack like that old V.E.R.P. duck, but under the heading of another management method? Will it be a simple a card trick, or will they really set a limit of visitors on those days when way too many people come and degrade the experience for others. Will next generation Park Managers and their views of crowding allow double or triple the visitors allowed to day, simply because of the changing times of the future, and acceptance of mass transit to mitigate all of our problems of overcrowding?

Are camping families a thing of the past, while day tripping and international tourism, now becoming the focus of National Park Service Marketing Managers? Do handshakes between gateway communities and Park Managers impart partnership agendas that are geared toward tourism growth for profit? Is Yosemite a place only to be experienced in a three-hour tour, so more can be served, at the expense of the quality of that experience?

Could a new camping experience be the result of these many years of public input, where Yosemite's “front country” becomes yet again more like the "back country" it once was, while still enabling the average car camping family to experience it? Will there be the separation between campsites and river bank reparation as was a component of the old 1980 Yosemite Valley General Management Plan? Will the old campgrounds be a part of the equation?

There is a beautiful balance that could be found, but not one that will satisfy everyone. Whatever that balance is, I hope that it's not one that is manufactured by and for commercial, and/or Park Service “mission creep” interests. I'd hate to think that all our public input from the past thirty-five years is for naught.

Yosemite was our nation’s first Park; a place that should be experienced to the fullest, while also carefully preserved. Perhaps Yosemite will be our nation’s first National Park to require that we “take a number” in order to visit it during those few busy peak season weekends. If that’s what it takes to balance all impacts, while also making the experience one that befits a place like Yosemite Valley, a Park unlike any other of our National Parks, taking a number would be just fine with me, even if it meant that I (too) were not able to visit it as often as I might want.

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