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Don't Derail Yosemite Plan

September 24, 2002

Word is that the National Park Service is reassigning Yosemite National Park's superintendent. The reported move could be routine, or it could be a tactic to further stall efforts to revitalize the crowded, smog-choked natural wonder. The public will need to make sure the new guy doesn't try to change course.

David Mihalic can be a gruff man, and he has irritated some powerful people during his three-year tenure as superintendent, in part by doing an outstanding job of advancing a long-delayed plan to reduce congestion in the valley and undo some of the changes that have undermined the 1-by-7-mile granite cathedral's natural beauty.

After more than 25 years of planning, debate and backsliding, the park service finally has begun work on several parts of the Yosemite Valley Plan--the rehabilitation of the Lower Yosemite Falls area, expansion of a walk-in campground, the removal of Cascade Dam on the Merced River and the relocation of two large campgrounds.

Even more important are future projects to restore meadows and get many people out of their cars and onto buses for their visits to the valley. This should help clear up the pall of smog that often shrouds El Capitan and let bird song replace traffic noise.

Among those who have crossed swords with Mihalic over the plan is Rep. George P. Radanovich (R-Mariposa), whose district includes the valley and who is chairman of the national parks subcommittee of the House Resources Committee. Radanovich has opposed the reduction of campsites in the valley and doesn't think that motorists--day visitors, for instance--should have to park in lots outside the valley and ride in on buses. On these points, the congressman is allied with tourist-business owners on the periphery of Yosemite who fear the plan will discourage visitors and hurt their businesses.

Mihalic's successor apparently will be Mike Tollefson, now the superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and formerly the chief of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California. Supporters of the plan worry that Tollefson might be less aggressive in moving the plan forward, particularly with Radanovich looking over his shoulder.

The Bush administration has a disturbing record of rolling back environmental progress. This must not be allowed to happen in Yosemite.

The people overseeing the park need to know that the public loves Yosemite for its unmatched natural beauty, not for the embellishments that have edged in over the years.

And it's time Radanovich realizes that the more the valley looks like the place that made John Muir rhapsodize, the more people it will attract and the more money they'll spend at those motels, stores and restaurants in towns like Mariposa as they bus, hike or bike in and out of the park.

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