Protecting Gateway Communities: Statement on HR 3640
Sub-Committee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands
House Natural Resources Committee
June 28, 2012
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.