SACRAMENTO — A Republican congressman from California has reignited the fight over a Clinton-era plan to ease the human imprint on Yosemite Valley, saying it too greatly favors the environment over visitors.
Rep. George P. Radanovich (R-Mariposa) introduced legislation this week that would block National Park Service plans to slash day-use parking by one-third and encourage the public to swap private cars for clean-air buses to reach the valley.
The measure (HR 2715) also would scrap an environmental restoration effort along the Merced River. The Park Service plan calls for returning to nature two abandoned riverfront campgrounds wiped out by flood six years ago. Instead, Radanovich proposes that the Park Service at least partially reconstruct the campgrounds so more visitors can stay overnight in Yosemite Valley.
Radanovich said the bill, which was expected to be debated next week by the parks subcommittee he chairs, sought to strike a balance between protecting the park and assuring public access to one of America's most cherished natural treasures.
"This bill will help preserve the character of Yosemite while making it more accessible for the people that the park was created for," Radanovich said Wednesday. Environmentalists countered that Radanovich's measure would virtually undo the Yosemite Valley Plan, which appeared to be a done deal when it was approved in December 2000 after years of debate and thousands of public comments.
"This will cut the heart and soul out of the Yosemite Valley Plan -- habitat restoration being the heart, parking and vehicle reductions the soul," said Jay Watson of the Wilderness Society. "These changes would leave the plan a hollow shell."
Watson said efforts to rebuild the Upper and Lower River campgrounds, which once provided about 350 campsites, would undo efforts to restore the mix of riverbank flora, meadows and oak woodland trampled during a century of public use.
Junking the transit proposal, he said, would leave the valley teeming with cars, particularly on busy summer weekends when traffic can approximate the maddening gridlock of Los Angeles during rush hour.
Radanovich said such concerns had been overblown.
He wants to see a 150-foot buffer along the Merced River, but allow construction of about 144 campsites beyond that line of demarcation. An additional 200 campsites could be established outside the valley to help offset the spaces wiped out by the 1997 flood, he said.
As for the ballyhooed shift to a transit system that would ferry most day-use visitors into the valley, Radanovich said it simply wasn't warranted. He said several planned improvements in the valley's road system would be enough to stem problems for the foreseeable future.
Instead of a 550-slot day-use parking lot called for by the Yosemite Valley Plan, Radanovich wants parking for 1,200 cars. If attendance swelled as expected in the coming decades, the Park Service could investigate other solutions, Radanovich said, suggesting that "the time will come, maybe, when it might be feasible to put a monorail into Yosemite."
Radanovich's legislation was greeted warmly by activists mounting a last-ditch fight against the valley plan. The Yosemite Valley Plan has struck a chord of discontent among some merchants and residents in the park's gateway communities. They fear that it would prove yet another blow to park attendance, which has been on the decline since 1996.