Ending a lengthy legal battle with environmentalists, the federal government agreed Wednesday to halt all commercial development in Yosemite National Park's most popular area and to consider limiting access to its wilderness.
The settlement was reached by the National Park Service and two small environmental groups that sued the federal government in 2000.
The groups charged that the park's $442-million plan to move campgrounds and upgrade hotel rooms in Yosemite Valley would jeopardize the Merced River, a federally protected waterway that flows beside famous granite monoliths and dramatic waterfalls.
Under the agreement, the Park Service will delay all planned construction until at least December 2012, when officials are expected to finish a far-reaching plan to manage and protect the river.
The settlement lays out a new process for park managers, consultants and the public to determine the maximum number of people who can visit certain areas of Yosemite without harming the river.
"We'll be trying to figure out the overall carrying capacity of Yosemite Valley," park spokesman Scott Gediman said. "That doesn't necessarily mean we'll be closing off areas to the public, but the Merced River is an incredibly valuable resource and we want to make sure that it's protected."