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Who Owns Yosemite?

September 30, 1990|Maura Dolan

Boland, 45, is tall, slender and dead serious. He doesn't like to talk about the more likely possibility, that MCA and the Curry Co. will win the new contract in Yosemite in 1993. But he confesses to having another fantasy about just that prospect. In this fantasy, Boland, a tennis teacher who lives in a trailer in Mariposa, imagines that environmentalists become guerrillas, hide in the cliffs that surround Yosemite Valley and sneak down each night to attack Curry Co. holdings.

Boland is one of three activists leading the charge against MCA. A veteran of the 1970s master plan wars, he brings historical perspective to the campaign and a sizable collection of documents about MCA's record in Yosemite. He considers the Curry Co. under MCA "the enemy," and in 1974 formed an informal group called Friends of Yosemite as a platform for speaking out about the park.

Another longtime park-watcher, Dean Malley, joined the fight against MCA after the Morehead report was released. Perpetually reddened by the sun, with blond hair brushed to the side, Malley is an intense, 40-year-old, self-employed computer salesman in Sonora. He grew up in La Jolla and spent his summers in Yosemite camping, rock scrambling and riding his inflatable mattress down the Merced. Long active in his local Sierra Club, he responded to the examination report by establishing Coalition 94, a loosely knit group with preservation as its goal.

MCA's most formidable opposition, however, came from Patricia Schifferle, a savvy, well-organized and well-placed activist. Schifferle, 39, was the top California representative of the Wilderness Society, a Harvard University-educated public administrator and former consultant to the state Assembly Transportation Committee. She is athletic-looking and enthusiastic, moving quickly and purposefully, the cane she acquired with a recent back injury failing to slow her momentum.

When she saw the examination report, she immediately demanded a full-blown environmental review and the opportunity for extensive public participation. The Curry Co. responded just as quickly. It sent 93,000 mailers to former park guests, asking them to oppose any reduction in accommodations and to support the replacement of some tent cabins with motel units. Schifferle was incensed. "If nothing were done," she said, "the examination report could have sealed the fate for Yosemite."

Although Schifferle, Boland and Malley are hard-pressed to admit it, there is no proof that MCA had triggered Morehead's report despite its advantages for the company. Still, the corporation became the target of the preservationists' wrath. They began to call for a new concession, one that would be willing to scale back accommodations and raze more buildings.

It was principally Schifferle who matched action with the idea of a revolt to unseat MCA. Working with a San Francisco attorney who sat on the board of a Yosemite educational group, Schifferle and the Wilderness Society began to assemble a nonprofit board of directors to compete with MCA for the Yosemite contract. This board would include environmentalists, former Park Service employees and businessmen with experience in concession management. Boland and Malley saw the advantages of a united front and joined forces with Schifferle.

If the Wilderness Society group was successful, it would enact the 1980 master plan. At the very least, the group, called the Yosemite Restoration Trust, would ensure conservationists a seat at the negotiating table where they could influence the terms of the new contract. "It is a serious effort," Schifferle said. "You can't do it without seriously wanting to take over the contract. But much of the purpose here has been to put some public light on what has been a rather cozy process between the Park Service and MCA."

She and other preservationists were encouraged when Michael Finley took over Yosemite in September, 1989. Tall and robust, with short, brown hair, Finley, 44, had just finished three years as a superintendent in the controversial and ecologically threatened Everglades park, where environmentalists held him, as they had Morehead, in high regard.

Finley played it cool at Yosemite. On the one hand, he made it clear to the activists that the examination report was neither his nor binding. He more or less ignored it. On the other hand, when the nonprofit Yosemite Assn. publicly condemned the report, Finley complained to its board of directors. As an educational organization subsidized by the Park Service, it had no business taking a political stand, Finley told the directors. The charter to operate in the park, he reminded them, could be revoked.

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