With the onset of summer, people's thoughts
are turning to where to spend this year's family vacation. Our
national parks, with their breathtaking scenery and generally
affordable accommodations, have long been the destination of
choice for millions of families.
They may not be much longer.
If a U.S. Park Service plan to limit public access to California's
spectacular Yosemite National Park is allowed to stand, similar
schemes could soon be in the works for other national parks,
forcing many vacationers to go elsewhere for their relaxation.
Yosemite is one of the crown jewels of
America's national parks. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains,
its 761,000 acres feature giant sequoia groves with trees thousands
of years old and many unique geological formations, including
the glacial Yosemite Valley of the Merced River. Campers, rock
climbers, rafters, hikers, swimmers and fishermen are among the
millions of tourists who flock to Yosemite annually.
A devastating flood in 1997 destroyed
or damaged much of Yosemite's infrastructure, including roads,
campgrounds, and sewer systems. Under the direction of then-Secretary
of Interior Bruce Babbitt, the Park Service set about developing
a plan to undue the damage caused by the flood and to reconstruct
the park along what officials viewed were more environmentally
Officially dubbed the "Yosemite
Valley Plan," the Park Service scheme, estimated to cost
$442 million, would reduce the number of parking spaces in Yosemite
Valley by two-thirds, from 1,662 to 550. Instead of driving around
the park and taking in the sights at their leisure, day visitors
would be shuttled to and from Yosemite Valley on a fleet of 50
buses from remote parking lots on the park's perimeter.
What's more, none of the 361 campsites
lost in the 1997 flood would be replaced, and 164 rustic housekeeping
units as well as 141 cabins and tent cabins would be eliminated.
Nearly 60 percent of the park's campsites accessible by car would
be removed. The only automobiles allowed in the Yosemite Valley
would be those belonging to visitors able to afford the more
expensive accommodations at the Ahwahnee Hotel and the Yosemite
Lodge, or those fortunate enough to grab one of the few remaining
campsites accessible by car.
It takes little imagination to see how
the prospect of being herded in and out of buses all day long
will discourage parents with small children from visiting the
park. Who wants to load and unload strollers, diaper bags, picnic
coolers and other items on and off buses for hours on end? Likewise,
reducing the number of affordable campsites and cabins in favor
of more upscale accommodations will further keep people of more
modest means away from the park.
"The valley and the park belong
to 285 million Americans, not a select few," says Congressman
George Radanovich (R-CA), chairman of the House subcommittee
with jurisdiction over national parks. "I will not allow
Yosemite to become an exclusive retreat." While recognizing
the need to repair the damage done by the flood, Radanovich has
vowed not to let the Park Service use this as a pretext to restrict
public access to Yosemite. "There is a concern about locking
people out of the park," he notes.
Fewer people visiting Yosemite will also
mean less business for the tourism-dependent communities surrounding
the park. This should be of grave concern to communities near
other national parks, because the Park Service's social engineering
isn't likely to stop at Yosemite. Once the precedent is set at
Yosemite, what's to keep meddling bureaucrats from devising similar
plans for Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Crater Lake, Great Smokey
Mountains and countless other parks?
The Bush Administration should heed Radanovich's
message and tell the Park Service to return Yosemite to the taxpaying
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Bonner Cohen is a senior fellow
with The National Center for Public Policy Research. Comments
may be sent to [email protected].