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Big changes are planned for how families experience the amazing landscape, geology and recreation of Yosemite National Park. According to the The Merced Wild and Scenic River Draft Comprehensive Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, future visits to Yosemite could occur without the benefit of ice skating, swimming pools and commercial horseback riding, three things families have loved about Yosemite visits for decades. Will these changes affect the core National Park experience?

A beautiful day with the family in Yosemite.

Some things are welcome losses (to me at least), like the ice skating and swimming. No one needs to do that in the most incredible natural environment in the world, that’s what ice cold lakes and rivers are for. It you want an incredible swimming pool, hike to the top of Yosemite falls and take a dip in the pool just behind the waterfall.

Others though will spawn debate. Horseback riding has long been a tradition in national parks, and a basic form of backcountry travel for many, though the impact of horses on trails that they share with hikers is undeniable. The loss of bike rentals will likely cut the impact of commercial activity, but to me, the availability of human powered transportation in the valley seems like it would have greater benefit than cost. We hauled out bikes to the valley and were happy we did. Getting around by bike, even with a toddler was fun, easy and allowed us to experience the natural environment, while still getting around quickly. Bike rentals in the valley could reduce traffic and buss ridership, while providing more room for everyone.

Check out my post on GoPro tips and tools for capturing family adventures for creating videos like the above.

Here’s a summary of proposed changes from

  • Restore 200+ acres along the Merced River within the park to a natural state.
  • Remove 34 campsites in 3 campgrounds considered too close to the river. For example, 15 riverfront sites in the Backpackers Camp would go, replaced by 16 new sites west of the Camp.
  • Eliminate the Curry Village ice skating rink.
  • Close hotel swimming pools.
  • Halt bicycle rentals and commercial horseback riding.
  • Boost parking capacity by 5%.
  • Cap Yosemite Valley daily visitation at 19,990, basically the number of visitors estimated that already fill the valley on the park’s busiest days.

REI Blog

Visiting Yosemite

We visited Yosemite and Tuolumne Meadows last summer. I spent a lot of time there as well when I was growing up in Souther California. Here is what I think about the proposed changes:

  • Riparian Restoration: Awesome ’bout time. The impact of trails and roads so close to the water was obvious from the litter and social trails through the riverside vegetation.
  • Campsite removal: We just stayed in the Pines campground and some of the site are REALLY close to the water. Every time someone dumps coffee, bacon grease or beer on the ground, it goes into the water. This will affect campsite availability, but that just means you’ll have to plan in advance.
  •  Eliminate Curry Village ice skating rink and close hotel swimming pools: Good riddance. It never made sense to me to have these amenities in a place like Yosemite.
  • Halt bike rentals and commercial horseback riding: I’m conflicted, while horses tear up and poop on trails degrading the experience for others and costing money in maintenance, they are as core to the National Parks Experience as fires and s’mores. Bikes are great for Yosemite, and they should be made as available as possible.
  • Boost Parking: Good. While more cars is bad, access is good. And the parking will be non-paved, so that water will soak into the ground rather than running into the river.
  • Cap Visitation: Sketchy unless you can reserve your day pass, or are guaranteed entry with a campsite reservation.

All in all these things will improve the experience for families in Yosemite, even if it makes the experience of getting a reservation in Yosemite a little harder.

Public Comment on Yosemite

The 90 day public comment period on the Merced River Plan opened Jan 18 and closes April 18.





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