California: Development of Yosemite Valley Plan, Yosemite National Park
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Agency: National Park Service
Criteria for Council Involvement:
- The proposed plan has the potential to adversely affect a large number of historic properties in the Yosemite Valley, including individual buildings and structures, historic districts, cultural landscapes, and traditional cultural properties (Criterion 1).
- This undertaking illustrates the challenge of balancing cultural and natural resource values with each other and with the needs of visitors within the National Park System (Criterion 2).
- There is widespread public interest and debate over the overall direction of the plan and its component parts (Criterion 3).
In July 2000, the Council provided the National Park Service (NPS) with initial comments on the draft Yosemite Valley Plan, which analyzes alternatives for implementing the General Management Plan (GMP) for Yosemite National Park. Although the plan identifies the protection of both natural and cultural resources as a priority, the Council voiced concern regarding an apparent emphasis on natural resource restoration over the protection of historic properties.
For example, the preferred alternative includes the removal of the historic Superintendent’s house in order to restore area natural resources, removal of four historic bridges to restore the natural flow of the Merced River, and removal of 277 tent cabins that comprise the most significant and last remaining complex of this type of structure in the National Park System. Other historic preservation organizations, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, have raised similar concerns about the proposed plan.
NPS met with the California State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) in August to discuss possible refinements to the plan that would better address concerns about treatment of historic properties in the Yosemite Valley. NPS is expected to respond to the Council’s comments before the end of the year.
The draft Yosemite Valley Plan analyzes alternatives for achieving NPS’s broad management goals for Yosemite National Park. These goals, as set forth in the park’s 1980 GMP, include reclaiming priceless natural beauty; allowing natural processes to prevail; promoting visitor understanding and enjoyment; and reducing traffic congestion and crowding. (To review the plan and related information, visit www.nps.gov/yose/planning/yvp.htm.)
Prior to the plan’s development, NPS undertook other planning efforts in more specialized areas, resulting in a draft Yosemite Valley Housing Plan, draft Yosemite Valley Implementation Plan, and Yosemite Lodge Development Concept Plan. The public objected, however, to this segregated approach to planning in the park, and thus each of these plans were incorporated into the current draft Yosemite Valley Plan.
Prior to the development of the draft plan, in 1999, NPS, the California SHPO, and the Council entered into a Programmatic Agreement (PA) for the operation and maintenance of the park. The park’s Section 106 responsibilities for the draft plan therefore are being addressed in accordance with the terms of the PA. Because the plan’s preferred alternative would adversely affect historic properties, NPS must consult with the California SHPO and the Council. The PA would allow use of standard mitigating measures to address the adverse effects, but the California SHPO must first agree to their use following consultation.
The draft Yosemite Valley Plan illustrates the often competing interests of protecting and preserving both natural and cultural resources in national parks. There is a great deal of public interest in preserving both resources; in fact, the entire Yosemite Valley is considered a cultural landscape with both natural and cultural resources contributing to its significance.
In addition, the Merced River is designated a “Wild and Scenic River” under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This designation may impact how historic properties located in the river corridor, including archeological sites and eight historic bridges, are managed in the future. In spite of this, and although the GMP calls for allowing natural processes to prevail in the park, the Council does not believe that NPS is precluded from preserving many of the Yosemite Valley’s historic properties.
Staff contact: Jane Crisler
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