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Yosemite Conservancy Provides $10.5 Million For Trail Restoration In Yosemite National Park


A years' long $13.5 million campaign to restore hiking trails in Yosemite National Park has concluded, with improvements seen from the Yosemite Valley to the park's spectacular high country.

The project was a combined effort of the Yosemite Conservancy, which raised $10 million for the work, and the National Park Service. 

"Our goal was elegant in its simplicity - improve the condition of Yosemite's most treasured, high-profile trails in order to protect irreplaceable natural resources," said Conservancy President Mike Tollefson in a news release. "Yosemite's spectacular trails are a mirror of the democratic notion of the National Park Service's founding - they exist for all people for all time."

The six-year Campaign for Yosemite Trails involved 75 miles of trails and is the largest ever trail repair and restoration program undertaken in Yosemite, according to park officials. The milestone was celebrated last Wednesday with a ceremonial dedication of the East Valley Loop Trail, and recognition of generous donations and the skilled work of Yosemite trail crews.

"Yosemite's trails are pathways to discovery and inspiration. Some of the park's most important trails were improved to reverse years of degradation to benefit visitors for decades," said park Superintendent Don Neubacher in prepared remarks. "The result is better trails, restored habitats, and greater education opportunities for visitors."

In the front country, repairs were made to the John Muir Trailhead in the Valley and to the east and west ends of the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail with heavily impacted areas being resurfaced with a natural looking asphalt alternative, repairs to foot bridges and new way finding signs. Near the park's southern entrance, trail improvements in parts of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias now protect the big tree's root systems.

On 33 miles of the John Muir Trail, work addressed parts of the trail from Tuolumne Meadows through Little Yosemite Valley to Yosemite Valley. There are new stone walls, rock staircases, and drainage structures, plus habitat restoration.

At the May Lake Trailhead accessed from the Tioga Road, hikers can expect a better defined route to the summit of Mount Hoffmann. Based on the successful work at Mount Hoffmann, park officials said additional trail improvements and restoration would be made on the route to Cathedral Peak and to the summit of Mount Dana. Also along Tioga Road, improvements were made to trailheads at Tamarack Flat, May Lake, Yosemite Creek/Ten Lakes, Snow Creek, and at Gaylor Lakes.

The work is different at each, and hikers might find habitat-friendly and safer parking and access, food storage lockers, or wilderness education exhibits. Major portions of the spectacular 12-mile Red Peak Pass, the Sierra's highest trail at 11,000 feet in southeastern Yosemite, were repaired and rebuilt.

Eight hundred miles of trails wind through Yosemite's valleys, meadows, streams, forests and across polished granite. Trail degradation compromises the visitor experience and habitat tremendously. Poor drainage erodes trail surfaces leading hikers to go off-trail, creating multiple social trails that divert water flow and destroy habitat animals depend on.

"Improvements were made to trails for every type of visitor from families with small children to ardent backcountry enthusiasts," said John Dorman, Yosemite Conservancy board chairman. "These arteries provide access to unimaginable beauty and a life-time of memories."


Hat's off to the Yosemite Conservancy and especially all the butt-bustin' trail workers that made this happen!

I found the language in this article very revealing of NPS management culture. Some variant of the word 'improvement' appears in the article seven times, plus 'new', 'better', and 'safer' for good measure, but not a mention of lowly 'maintain'. Not infrequently, restoration and rehabilitation are what is needed when recurring maintenance is 'deferred' long enough. While it's great that the park natural resources are better protected, I can't help wondering how much of the rest of the Yosemite trail system was undermaintained this past season in order to accomplish this project.

I realize the goal was resource protection, but what's with "trail improvements" on summit routes? Seems against the spirit, if not the letter, of the Wilderness Act and possibly counterproductive. Were day-use quotas considered?

It's much easier to fill the eye of your supervisor or superintendent with a big, attention-getting project than a report that most damage was repaired or deterioration at least stabilized. More and better is not maintenance, even though most NPS managers were confused about this during my career. It is development, and was always the highest priority of my supervisors, and theirs. I'd estimate I spent about one-third of those three decades working in the Development, rather than the so-called Maintenance, Division of the Park Service. We built a new Nature Trail (without EA's) almost every year, while a hundred miles of mapped trails in the park could hardly be found, let alone followed. The best description of the Olympic trails I ever heard was "three dollar trails with hundred-thousand dollar bridges."

Here's a simplified version of the NPS recipe for a ten-digit deferred maintenance backlog: Don't clean or fix all your toilets (buildings, roads, trails, etc.); Use the workers who should be taking care of what you already have to build more toilets (etc.); Stir in frequently transferring managers seeking rapid promotion; Repeat for several decades.

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