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Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases:
California: Development of Yosemite Valley Plan, Yosemite National Park

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 general direction of the plan and its component parts (Criterion 3).



Recent Developments

In response to concerns raised by the Council, the California State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), the National Trust for Historic Preservation (Trust), and others, the National Park Service (NPS) has indicated that it will adjust its Draft Yosemite Valley Plan to better balance protection of natural and cultural resources at Yosemite National Park.

Under the new proposal, the historic Superintendent’s House would be relocated rather than demolished in order to restore area natural resources. Instead of removing four historic bridges to restore the natural flow of the Merced River, NPS proposes to remove one bridge to study its effects prior to making a decision regarding the other three bridges.

At Camp Curry Historic District, NPS has agreed to preserve a representative sample of tent cabins and other contributing buildings to retain the historic design and configuration of the camp, rather than demolishing it in its entirety.

Finally, NPS has agreed to reevaluate the Fort Yosemite portion of Yosemite Village to examine the feasibility of adaptive use of these buildings. The Council is pleased by the park’s willingness to consider and act on the concerns expressed by the Council, SHPO, and Trust, and awaits receipt of further specifics regarding these changes.


Background

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 General Management Plan, 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.)

In 1999, prior to the development of the draft plan, 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, which would allow use of standard mitigating measures to address the adverse effects, provided the California SHPO first agrees to their use.

In July 2000, the Council provided NPS with initial comments on the draft plan, voicing concern with its emphasis on natural resource restoration over the protection of historic properties.

For example, the preferred alternative included the removal of the historic Superintendent’s House in order to restore area natural resources and removal of four historic bridges to restore the natural flow of the Merced River. Camp Curry Historic District, 277 tent cabins that comprise the last remaining complex of this type in the national park system, would also be demolished to restore the natural landscape.

In addition, the initial draft plan called for removing park activities from Fort Yosemite, four buildings built by the Army in the early 1900s that are part of Yosemite Village Historic District.


Policy Highlights

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.

The potential competition between preservation of natural and cultural resources in National Parks like Yosemite has led to creation of a Council member task force on this issue.

Members include Katherine Slick (Chair), member of the general public; Arva Parks McCabe, historic preservation expert member; Alan Hantman, Architect of the Capitol; Judith Bittner, President of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers; and Kathryn Higgins, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Vice President for Public Policy.

Their charge is to promote resource management and conflict resolution in the national park system that achieves balance between natural and cultural values. The Council hopes to distribute policy in spring 2001 as an illustration of how Sections 106 and 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act can help reconcile historic preservation and ecological concerns.

Fall 2000 report on this case

Staff contact: Jane Crisler


Posted March 21, 2001


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