YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — Perhaps no river crossing in Yosemite Valley has been more photographed than the historic Stoneman Bridge: a single, arching span faced with rough-hewn granite that provides a dramatic foreground to Half Dome, the park's most iconic natural marvel.
Yet the 205-foot bridge is slated for possible removal under proposed plans for restoring the natural flow of the Merced River. As a federally designated "Wild and Scenic River," some say its course should be shaped only by nature as it meanders through the valley — and bridge abutments alter that course.
The future of the roughly 80-year-old Stoneman and two other spandrel arch bridges has pitted environmentalists, who want the river to flow freely, against historic preservationists who say these early examples of the rustic park architectural style are too culturally important to destroy.
"We're talking about nationally significant resources in arguably the best-known national park in the world. What happens in Yosemite has echoes throughout the National Park System," said Anthony Veerkamp of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
It's why last month the trust placed the Stoneman and two other Yosemite Valley stone-arch bridges threatened with removal — the Ahwahnee Bridge and the Sugar Pine Bridge — on its 2012 most endangered historic places list.