Yosemite

Yosemite

Yosemite National Park is the crown jewel of the National Park System that includes some of the most beautiful natural splendors in all the world.  It was also the cornerstone of the National Parks System, being the first public land set aside in 1864 by the United States government for “public use, resort and recreation…for all time.”   One of the greatest honors of representing the Fourth Congressional District of California is to defend the original intent of the Yosemite Grant Act and all that it means for the millions of park visitors who come here each year and the many gateway communities whose economies depend directly on the tourism that the park generates.

Through the years, generations of Americans have come to Yosemite to take pleasure in those splendors while enjoying all varieties of outdoor activities amidst the park’s natural beauty, including camping and lodging, hiking and biking, horseback riding, river rafting, ice skating.  Recent attempts to restrict access to the park and remove many of its amenities and activities undermines the original purpose of the Yosemite Grant Act. 

Yosemite is also threatened by years of neglect of its surrounding forests, which are now dangerously overgrown and are falling victim to disease, pestilence and ultimately, catastrophic wild fire.  The Rough Fire in 2015 burned into the periphery of the Park.  The next major fire could decimate the valley itself, a matter I discuss in length under Forest Policy.

 

Yosemite Sesquicentennial Celebration

Yosemite National Park - June 30, 2014

I want to thank all of you who have worked so long and hard to make this sesquicentennial celebration of the original Yosemite Grant Act so moving.

The earliest description of this valley comes to us from Dr. Lafayette Bunnell, a member of the Mariposa Battalion that pursued a band of Ahwaneechies into the valley in 1851. 

He wrote, “Domes, peaks, spires, and cliffs were capped with fresh snow, their walls and slopes dappled with it, marking in strong relief the various sculptured forms.  Some were veiled in wisps of cloud, others seemed to rise from a deep blue haze, giving the whole a drifting unreal quality, like a vision…on every side astonished by the size of the cliffs and the number and heights of the waterfalls, which constantly challenged our attention and admiration.”

Word for word that description remains as accurate today as it did then, because of the Yosemite Grant Act that we celebrate today. 

Amidst all the destruction and ugliness and horror of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln paused for a moment to sign an act that set aside something so wonderful and beautiful and serene.

He did this “upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation (and) shall be inalienable for all time.”

The afternoon of the day he died, Lincoln told Mary that he wanted to see California when the term ended four years later.  There can be no doubt the fabled Yosemite Valley was on his mind.

Four years later, John Muir came to see Yosemite Valley for himself, and there he had his own awakening, resolved for the rest of his life to evangelize for Yosemite.  “Heaven knows,” he wrote, “that John the Baptist was not more eager to get all his fellow sinners into the Jordan than I am to baptize all of mine in the beauty of God’s mountains.”

Two years after Muir’s death, the National Park Service was created and Yosemite was entrusted to its care.  I want to recognize the Yosemite Park Rangers who have ever since welcomed and encouraged succeeding generations of Americans who come to Yosemite.

I have seen the commitment they make on a daily basis to the people who come here to visit. They always stop what they are doing in order to answer questions or help guide a tourist in need of directions. They are the gracious hosts of the grandeur that is Yosemite.   

The Organic Act of 1916 that created the National Park Service further underscored that its purpose was not to shut off and close these natural wonders – but rather to open them for the use and enjoyment of the general public, in the words of the act: “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same.” 

In the view of these visionaries, preserving these resources for future generations did not mean closing them to the current generation.

On the contrary, Muir wanted people to come here to enjoy themselves, knowing that they would go away with fond memories, happy experiences, resolved to return again and again – drawn by the beauty of the valley and their own pleasant time in it -- and resolved to preserve it so that their children and their children’s children could share that experience.

“We saw another party of tourists today.” John Muir wrote in his diary.  “Somehow most of these travelers seem to care but little for the glorious objects around them, though enough to spend time and money and endure long rides to see the famous Valley.  And when they are fairly within the mighty walls of the temple and hear the psalms of the falls, they will forget themselves and become devout.  Blessed indeed would be every pilgrim in these holy mountains…The valley is full of people, but they do not annoy me.”

The Yosemite Grant Act established Yosemite as a public trust, which was itself revolutionary.  The Norman and Plantagenet kings of old set aside vast tracts of land as their exclusive province, in which only a select few with their blessing could enjoy. 

The Yosemite Grant was the very opposite of that – it set aside the most beautiful land in the nation entirely for the people.

Author Peter Hoss noted Lincoln’s maxim “of the people, by the people and for the people” completely describes the philosophy behind the founding of this park. 

And whenever there is question of its meaning, we can turn to the words of the Yosemite Grant Act and the early advocates of public access and preservation who set in motion the events we honor, celebrate, and rejoice in 150 years later.

This anniversary is not being celebrated just here in the park, but in many of the communities that surround it, a reminder of the very important role that tourism plays in this entire region of California. 

All these communities and the local businesses that support them, are vital elements of the never-ending campaign to promote the park, and they are the most passionate advocates for preserving the Yosemite experience. Their voices, too, must be heard.

A half century from now, another assemblage will gather here to celebrate Yosemite’s bi-centennial.  Much in the world will have changed by then, but the tumbling rivers, soaring trees and granite walls will look as they do today.  A new generation that has reveled and recreated in its beauty will gather here then to renew the promise of “public use, resort and recreation…inalienable…for all time.

One thinks of the millions of treasured photos, some sepia-toned with age, others bright new digital images, that occupy an honored space in family scrapbooks throughout the world. Even more treasured are the tales told of epic vacations, horseback rides, biking trips, rafting adventures, family hikes up misty waterfalls, pleasant stays in local lodges or rustic camping trips under the stars.  That is the vital connection between the human experience and the natural one – a connection that renews the former and preserves the latter.

The world comes to tell old stories and create new ones.  The world comes to extoll the story of Yosemite.

 

Keep Yosemite Tourist-Friendly

House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. - April 24, 2013

Mr. Speaker:

I rise today in strong opposition to a proposal by the National Park Service to remove long-standing tourist facilities from Yosemite National Park, including bicycle and raft rentals, snack facilities, gift shops, horseback riding, the ice rink at Curry Village, tennis courts and swimming pools, the art center and the historic stone Sugar-Pine Bridge.  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.

To add insult to insanity, all this comes with a quarter-billion dollar price tag.

Yosemite belongs to the American people, and the Park Service’s job is to welcome them and accommodate them when they visit their park – not restrict and harass them.  Indeed, Yosemite was set aside nearly 150 years ago by legislation signed by Abraham Lincoln specifically for “the public use, resort and recreation…for all time.”  This proposal fundamentally changes the entire purpose for which Yosemite was set aside in the first place. 

Tourists don’t go where they’re not wanted.  Yosemite competes with thousands of other vacation destinations, and the more inconvenient and unpleasant park managers make it for Yosemite visitors, the fewer visitors they’ll have.  That might be more convenient to them, but it will devastate the economy of all the surrounding communities whose economies depend on tourism.

The Park Service is attempting to justify this as a court-ordered response to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  This is disingenuous.  The settlement agreement they refer to simply requires that a plan be adopted consistent with current law relative to the Merced River – it does not mandate such radical changes in long-standing visitor services and amenities.

Indeed, former Congressman Tony Coelho, who authored the act that designated the Merced under provisions of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, has just released a strong letter condemning the proposal, saying in no uncertain terms:

“The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was never intended to apply to the Merced River within Yosemite National Park at all.  The Merced River within Yosemite National Park is protected and regulated by the National Park Service and has never needed an overlay of inconsistent and confusing regulation…The Merced River in Yosemite Valley has been recreational for almost 150 years.  Yosemite Valley has never been wilderness.  Any plan which proceeds should not change any infrastructure or ban any activities traditionally carried on in Yosemite Valley.”

Indeed, when Mr. Coelho authored the legislation designating the Merced as Wild and Scenic, these tourist facilities already existed and nowhere in the bill’s findings is there any mention of an intention to force their closure or to override Park policies.  In fact, many of the facilities slated for removal are not even on the Merced River and do not in any way impede or affect its flow.

The officials of the National Park Service are clearly not required to take these actions.  It is becoming increasingly apparent that they want to take them and that they intend to take them, despite widespread public opposition from all but the most radical elements of the Environmental Left. 

Indeed, when 13 members of the California Congressional delegation, including liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike, asked for an extension of the public comment period, the Park Service grudgingly extended it by all of 12 days.  Twelve days.

It is obvious that Park officials have already made up their minds and are merely walking through the formalities.  I believe that this matter and related issues of public access cry out for a Congressional investigation. 

In the mean time, if members of the public wish to protest the elimination of many of the Yosemite Valley’s tourist amenities and iconic landmarks, their time is running out.  My website, at mcclintock.house.gov provides guidance on how people can protest this action, and I strongly urge them to do so.

 

Preparing for the Centennial

Federal Lands Sub-Committee - House Natural Resources Committee - December 2, 2015

Today, the Federal Lands Sub-Committee meets to hear testimony on a discussion draft of the National Park Service Centennial Act.

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. This year-long celebration of our National Parks affords us a unique opportunity to reflect on the past, assess the present, and make adjustments for the future.

The centennial pays tribute to the uniquely American notion that our most beautiful and historic lands should be set aside for the use and enjoyment of the people of the United States. In the words of the Organic Act of 1916, “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same.” 

Yet, as we approach the centennial, the Park Service faces considerable challenges to achieving the goals sets forth in the Organic Act, chief among them being the massive 11.5 billion dollar deferred maintenance backlog. As the Park Service has gradually taken on new responsibilities and Congress has voted to add new units to the system, the Park Service has fallen behind on necessary projects. With 409 units now included in the system, the Park Service is spread thin.

In addition to deferred maintenance projects, the Park Service also faces challenges with fee collection, technological upgrades, management of concessions contracts for visitor services, and most disturbingly, a decrease in park visitation. We have been told that visitation is at an all-time high, but this is an illusion created by new memorials in Washington D.C. Per capita visitation to our Parks has steadily declined since the peaks of the late 80’s and early 90’s and overnight stays are down in absolute numbers.

In fact, from all-time highs, in-park concessioner lodging is down by 722,000 persons annually, or about 17 percent.  Tent campers are down by 1.37 million overnights, about 26 percent. The decline in visitation has been particularly high among young people.  Recent reports indicate that visits to parks by those 15 and younger fell by 50% in the last decade.   Perhaps most telling, RV camper overnight stays are down by 2.6 million camper nights – about 56 percent, despite the fact that RV ownership and RV stays at private campgrounds has grown dramatically. 

This sub-committee is especially concerned over policies that are actively removing traditional tourist amenities from our national parks. 

Two years ago, the National Park Service proposed removing long-standing tourist facilities from Yosemite Valley, including bicycle and raft rentals, snack facilities, gift shops, horseback riding rentals, the iconic ice-skating rink at Curry Village, the art center, the grocery store, swimming pools, and even the valley’s landmark and historic stone bridges.  Their current plan locks in a 30 percent reduction in campsites and lodging compared to historic highs, including loss of prime sites close to the river.  Funds appropriated by Congress to restore campsite levels after the 1997 flood were not spent as Congress instructed. 

And what we’re learning is, tourists don’t go where they’re not welcomed.

I can’t think of a better way to approach the next century of our National Park Service than to restore the vision of its founders.  Our national parks should be open to the public for all recreational pursuits —hiking, biking, fishing, snow-mobiling, horseback riding, skiing, rafting, skating, RVing, camping, staying in an historic lodge – these are the priceless memories our parks are there to create for succeeding generations of Americans. 

The discussion draft before the sub-committee today helps the Park Service to prepare for its nation-wide celebration in 2016, as well as better equips the Service for the next century of promoting and protecting our parks. Provisions in the bill help reduce the Service’s deferred maintenance backlog by creating new sources of revenue to pay for needed improvements. Other provisions will help the Service expand its Volunteers in Parks and Public Lands Corps programs as well as making needed changes to the National Park Foundation Board of Directors.

Our witnesses today have come to share their views on how to best prepare the Park Service for its centennial and how we can improve park management and visitation. I thank each of them for their willingness to testify before this sub-committee today and for their dedication to ensuring that our National Parks are on a path toward greater sustainability.

 

Public Impact of Closing Amenities at Yosemite National Park

Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation

House Natural Resources Committee - Washington, D.C. - 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.

 

Protecting Gateway Communities: Statement on HR 3640

Sub-Committee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands

House Natural Resources Committee - Washington, D.C. - June 28, 2012

Mr. Chairman:

We have before us HR 3640, authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to acquire 18 acres in Mariposa, California as the site of a new Yosemite Visitors Center and Administrative Office Complex.

I had the opportunity to meet with a group of county officials and business leaders earlier this year who are pursuing this project as a “Gateway to Yosemite.”  As Mariposa County Supervisor Kevin  Cann will explain to the sub-committee today, the advantages include moving more than 100 Yosemite employees out of the park, and providing a one-stop center for park visitors to “get a full Park Ranger orientation, entrance passes, maps and plan their trip BEFORE they enter the park.”

The ultimate goal is to remove as many vestiges of human activity from the park as possible, stopping Yosemite-bound travelers in Mariposa and then bussing them in for day trips.

I have not taken a position on this bill as yet, but I do hope proponents will address a number of concerns.

First among them is whether this plan has been fully vetted locally, in Mariposa.  A few weeks after I met with Supervisor Cann, I was invited to a community meeting in Mariposa attended by several hundred Mariposa residents who raised the issue during a question-and-answer session and expressed strong opposition to the project.  Among their concerns were why 18 acres was necessary for a visitor center; what negative impacts such a complex would have on the quiet ambiance of the town, and how the Federal government could afford to take on new projects during an unprecedented fiscal crisis.  I appreciate the Chairman granting my request to invite one of the organizers of this meeting to testify today.

There are a lot of unresolved questions surrounding this matter, but one thing is crystal clear: that a consensus has not yet emerged locally. 

Second and more importantly is the impact of this proposal on Park visitors and on surrounding gateway communities.

Mariposa is 30 miles from Yosemite.  Moving employees and visitor services from the Park means that they will not be available to visitors at the park. 

And Mariposa County is not the only gateway to Yosemite.  It certainly serves visitors coming to the west entrance on Highway 140, but neighboring Tuolumne County serves as a gateway from the North on Highway 120 and Madera County as the gateway to the South Entrance from the populous Southern California region on Highway 41.  These counties have not taken a position on this legislation, but have expressed some concerns. 

As Madera County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ron Dominici wrote to Congressman Denham on April 10th of this year,

“As in Mariposa County, Madera County directly benefits from tourists traveling to Yosemite National Park.   Eastern Madera County is comprised of many southern gateway communities such as Oakhurst, who depend almost solely on tourism...the number of tourists that visit the Park through the South Gate Entrance – more than 1.1 million of the 3.6 million total visitors in 2011 – surpasses any other gate.  Thus, we believe that our County should also be considered for any project that utilizes Park fees for visitor services.”

I ask unanimous consent to place that letter in the record.

Tuolumne County’s government affairs representative voiced a similar concern.  

By removing visitor services 30 miles to the west, travelers from both Northern and Southern California would be diverted many miles out of their way to obtain services they could otherwise access in the park itself.  Moreover, every visitor trip that Mariposa may gain by this project is a visitor trip lost to neighboring communities like Sonora and Oakhurst, whose economies are just as dependant on Yosemite-generated tourism.

So I would hope that these issues can be addressed in a consensus bill that takes into account the wishes of park users, local community concerns within Mariposa County, as well as concerns of Mariposa’s neighbors that could be devastated economically if Congress begins picking winners and losers among Yosemite’s gateway communities.