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Rockfall threat closes Yosemite cabins

A third of the structures at Curry Village are eliminated.

November 22, 2008|Eric Bailey | Bailey is a Times staff writer.

SACRAMENTO — Conceding to the force of Mother Nature, officials at Yosemite National Park announced Friday that they are eliminating more than a third of the cabins and other accommodations at venerable Curry Village because of the threat of rockfalls at Glacier Point.

The decision follows weeks of intensive geological study of the 3,000-foot cliff face in the aftermath of an Oct. 8 rockfall that injured three visitors and battered numerous cabins sitting in the shadow of the massive granite wall.

Park administrators said they will permanently close 233 accommodations at Curry Village, which until last month had 600 tent and solid-wall cabins.

Scott Gediman, a park spokesman, said officials took the step after geologists determined that the rockfall zone below Glacier Point had spread too close for comfort to Curry Village.

"We basically drew a new line," Gediman said. "Anything behind the line, we're closing."

For years, a number of independent geologists and park denizens have considered Glacier Point the most active and dangerous cliff face in the 7-mile-long valley. They have pushed for the park to take steps to limit the risks to Curry Village.

In the last 12 years, rock slides at Glacier Point have killed two people and injured about two dozen.

Meanwhile, the impact zone for falling rock has gradually spread closer to the family-friendly cabins and other accommodations at century-old Curry Village.

Last month's rockfall was particularly sobering. It occurred just minutes after scores of schoolchildren had left the impact zone for breakfast. There were only a few minor injuries.

In the last 12 years, the total number of hotel rooms, cabins and campsites in the valley has decreased by 36%, from 2,353 in 1996 to 1,503 today -- because of floods, rockfalls and planning decisions.

Gediman said it could take five years to get more overnight accommodations in the valley. A federal judge has blocked construction of new accommodations while park officials redo a key planning document, a process Gediman said is unlikely to be completed before 2012.

Those pushing for more lodging say park officials have a hidden agenda.

Brian Ouzounian of the Yosemite Valley Campers Coalition said park officials have been on "a mission" to reduce campsites and other affordable accommodations, increase the cost of visitation and prod tourists to bus into the park.

"The closures of the Camp Curry units will only create more demand on campsites, and frustrate the visiting public struggling for access to Yosemite," he said.

Meanwhile, the geologist who warned park officials about the threat at Glacier Point expressed relief at the decision.

"This is a big positive step for the safety of visitors to Curry Village," said Chester "Skip" Watts, a geology professor at Radford University in Virginia.

Watts noted that the park frequently reminds the public that activities such as rock climbing can be naturally hazardous. But, he added, "sleeping at Curry Village should not be on any such list."

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eric.bailey@latimes.com

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