Public Impact of Closing Amenities at Yosemite National Park
Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation
House Natural Resources Committee
July 9, 2013
I want to thank Chairman Bishop for arranging this hearing in response to the public outcry against proposals by the National Park Service that would radically alter the purpose, nature and use of Yosemite National Park. The NPS proposal would remove long-standing tourist facilities from Yosemite Valley, including bicycle and raft rentals, snack facilities, gift shops, horseback riding, the ice-skating rink at Curry Village, the art center, the grocery store, swimming pools, and even the valley’s iconic and historic stone bridges. These facilities date back generations and provide visitors with a wide range of amenities to enhance their stay at – and their enjoyment of – this world-renowned national park.
The Park Service says this is necessary to comply with a settlement agreement reached with the most radical and nihilistic fringe of the environmental Left. It seeks to use the Wild and Scenic River designation of the Merced River as an excuse to expel commercial enterprises and dramatically reduce the recreational amenities available to park visitors.
Yet as we will hear from Yosemite historian Peter Hoss that agreement imposes no requirement on the government to do anything more than adopt a plan consistent with current law. And current law is explicit: the 1864 act establishing the park guarantees its use for public recreation and resort; the 1916 Organic Act creating national parks explicitly declares their purpose to be the public enjoyment of the public lands, and the Wild and Scenic River Act contemplated no changes to the amenities at Yosemite – so says its author, Democratic Congressman Tony Coelho. Yet the Park Service insists that the law compels these radical changes. It does no such thing.
In a “let them eat cake” moment, the Park Service assures us that although bicycle, raft and horse rentals will be banned, people are free to bring their own. What a relief that will be to a paralyzed teenager whose only access to the park is from horseback – all you have to do is buy your own horse and bring it to the park!
And since environmental protection is the stated justification, I must ask: what is the environmental difference between a rented bicycle and a privately owned bicycle? What is the environmental difference between a rented raft and a privately owned raft, except that the rented raft is operated under the close supervision of experts? Why would the Park Service demand the removal of the swimming pools at the Ahwanee and Yosemite Lodge that have no impact on the Merced River except to give parents a safer place for their children to go swimming than the River’s treacherous waters?
Ninety five percent of the park is already in wilderness. Yet the overwhelming majority of park visitors come to that five percent where amenities are available for public recreation: where they can rent a bike; where they can stop at the snack shop to get ice-cream cones for the kids; where they can pick up souvenirs at the gift shop; where the family can cool off at a lodge swimming pool. And it is precisely these pursuits that the National Park Service would destroy.
We’re assured that in some cases they will merely “move” them to other locations in the park away from the Valley floor. Understand what that means: they will move tourist facilities away from the tourists. Wawona, for example has often been mentioned as an alternative site. Wawona is more than 20 miles from Yosemite Valley!
We’re assured that the plan will “increase” campsites and parking. Yet as we will hear from the Yosemite Valley Campers Coalition, the plan actually represents a radical reduction in parking and campsites measured from pre-flood levels. Congress appropriated millions of dollars to restore these facilities – the money was spent, but the facilities were never replaced. And the NPS would now lock in not only dramatically lower numbers, but would diminish the desirability of the campsites which remain.
Yosemite National Park was set aside in 1864 by legislation signed by Abraham Lincoln for the express purpose of “public use, resort and recreation.” For more than a century, this mission was honored by the park’s stewards. But no more. This plan would radically alter the visitor-friendly mission of the park with a new, elitist maxim: “Look, but don’t touch; visit, but don’t enjoy.”
The public is crying out for Congressional intervention, and I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for taking the first step toward saving Yosemite National Park for the “public use, resort and recreation” promised to the American people nearly 150 years ago.