Yosemite National Park is not only the primary outdoor destination of Californians and visitors to the Golden State, it is the crown jewel of the National Park System.
So why is it that some seem so determined to dismantle parts of it — at least those parts that allow people to enjoy the park as they have for generations?
We've been supportive of many of the changes that have been made at Yosemite in recent years. There are good reasons why the park has needed to restrict car travel and encourage visitors to use shuttle buses. The result in many places is a quieter, more inviting experience for hikers and bike riders alike.
And although we lamented the loss of the affordable options for overnight stays, we also understand why some camping areas and cabins weren't rebuilt or reopened following the disastrous floods on the Merced River in 1996-97.
But now, driven by lawsuits from environmental groups that seem determined to restore Yosemite to pre-human days, the National Park Service is proposing to remove some of the valley's long-standing visitor attractions.
In its Merced River Plan, the park service spells out significant steps to be taken to preserve the stream as it flows through Yosemite, particularly the 7-mile stretch through Yosemite Valley, the most heavily visited part of the park.
The $235 million plan calls for restoring green areas, reducing traffic in some areas, cutting down on congestion and building up trails in some areas. There are even plans to add campsites.
But the plan also calls for changes that seem to have marginal connections, if at all, to restoring the health of the river.
For example, it seeks to end bike rentals as well as horseback riding. Rentals of those family-sized rafts for three-hour floats down the Merced River also would come to an end. Ice skating at Curry Village during the winter would stop. And the swimming pools at Yosemite Lodge and the Ahwahnee Hotel would be taken out as well. The plan also calls for removal of one of eight Yosemite Valley bridges, built more than 80 years ago, that span the Merced River.
At best, these changes seem unnecessary. At worst they're mean-spirited.
Many would agree, for example, that touring the valley by bike is one of the best ways to experience the majesty of Yosemite. But not everyone is in a position to haul their own bike — or to pay someone to do it for them — to the park. The same goes for rafting, which would continue — except for those who don't bring their own raft.
As for swimming, we can understand if some were opposed to the construction of more pools. But the benefits of removing those that have been around for generations seems minimal as well.
Studies show children, particularly those in high-density urban areas, are spending less time in nature than ever. Overall visitation to Yosemite is only now approaching where it was in the mid-1990s after a lull that lasted for more than 15 years.
Let's not come up with more reasons for young people to say home.
As much as some might like it to be otherwise, Yosemite is not a designated wilderness area. It is a well-loved National Park that for generations has offered hotels, restaurants and ice cream shops in addition to waterfalls, bears and wildflowers. The goal should be healthy co-existence and making the best of what the valley is — not pretending that it's something else.