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Yosemite visitors find more solitude

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Yosemite visitors find more solitude

Postby copeg » Tue Jan 23, 2007 7:57 am

http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercuryn ... 524205.htm
Yosemite visitors find more solitude
TRAFFIC BACKUPS GONE, TOO, AS CROWDS SHRINK
By Paul Rogers
Mercury News
Yosemite National Park has long been known as a place with stunning waterfalls, dramatic rock formations and frustrating weekend crowds. But all that is changing.

The waterfalls and rocks are still there. A lot of the people aren't.

Fewer people visited Yosemite last year than at any time in the past 16 years, according to park attendance statistics made public Monday. The trend has been under way for a decade -- and nobody knows exactly why, although park officials point to busy families, video games and a series of natural disasters.

With 3.36 million visitors in 2006, Yosemite drew nearly 20 percent fewer people than its peak in attendance 10 years ago, despite the state adding 5 million people -- equivalent to the populations of Chicago and Houston -- in that span.

``The traffic is less. I'm not seeing the backups that we used to see,'' said Scott Gediman, a ranger who has worked in Yosemite since 1996. ``You don't see crowds of people as much.''

Key weekends such as Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July remain busy. But, increasingly, very crowded days are the exception. A few minutes' walk up a trail from Yosemite Valley can mean solitude.

``You can go out on an August day on a Tuesday afternoon and it is more peaceful and quiet now, which is wonderful,'' Gediman said. ``But we'd like people, if they haven't been here in a couple of years, to come back.''

Reasons for the decline have been difficult to pinpoint, but park officials and business leaders from neighboring counties have plenty of theories.

Among them: A series of natural disasters -- from a devastating flood in 1997 to a rockslide this summer that closed one of the park's main roads, Highway 140, from April to August -- has scared visitors away.

Also, some suggest, many parents are working longer hours and can't get away from e-mails, cell phone calls and the pressures of the office for extended periods. And kids have more entertainment options than they used to.

``We certainly want parks to be relevant to young people today, and to pass on the preservation ethic,'' Gediman said. ``But there is a different entertainment ethic. Half Dome is competing now with PlayStation and Xbox.''

The decline has neighboring counties concerned.

Mariposa County, on the park's west edge, draws 60 percent of its discretionary county budget from hotel taxes.

Leroy Radanovich, tourism coordinator for the Mariposa County Visitor's Bureau, said business leaders are worried that although Highway 140 is open now to all vehicles under 28 feet long, work to repair the road from last summer's rockslide could send several hundred tour buses on another route, or out of the park entirely this year.

Radanovich said that in addition to kids having other pursuits, aging baby boomers in many cases prefer luxury vacations to camping and backpacking.

``In the early 1970s, you had to stand in line to get a wilderness permit,'' he said. ``Today there's no problem. The high country of Yosemite is virtually empty.''

The park is facing financial consequences as well.

In the 1990s, the park raised its entrance fee to $20 a car, from $5. Most of that money goes to maintaining Yosemite's roads, restrooms and other facilities. The park's $22 million operating budget comes from Congress, but with lower attendance, there will be less money for capital improvements.

In recent years, with significant help from private donations, the park has renovated the visitor areas around Yosemite Falls, built new boardwalks on its famed meadows and built a new visitor's center.

But other improvements have been mired in years of lawsuits from several small environmental groups. Among them, the rebuilding of Yosemite Lodge, which lost roughly half of its 500 rooms in the 1997 flood. Those have not been replaced. Nor have roughly 300 campsites in Yosemite Valley, which were wrecked in the flood, cutting the number of overnight campsites in the valley from 800 to 500 in the past decade.

National Park Service officials have said they would rebuild many of the sites outside the valley, at White Wolf or other areas along Tioga Road, but that hasn't happened.

``Between the lodge and the campsites, that's 500 to 600 overnight units that were lost,'' said Kenny Karst, a spokesman for DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, the park's concessionaire. ``That's a huge factor in the decrease. There are fewer places to stay.''

DNC lost $4 million in overnight lodging, gift shop and food sales last year because of the rockslide, Karst said.

Attendance at other big parks in the West, such as Yellowstone, also is down. Nationally, attendance at all 390 national parks has declined from 287 million in 1999 to 273 million in 2005, a drop of about 5 percent.

Also, with increasing numbers of first-generation immigrants, the United States has more people who may not have experienced camping or backpacking. Both DNC and Yosemite are working to reach out to immigrants by filming promotional videos and printing park materials in Spanish and other languages.

Karst is urging families to find time to get away from their computer-centric lives.

``There are a lot of things kids can learn on the Internet,'' he said. ``But there's nothing like the firsthand experience of being in the natural environment. You are setting aside the hectic lifestyle from your workload and taking in something that's going to enrich your life so you have more balance.''

Some Yosemite visitors are quite pleased by the trend.

Steve and Terri Bicknell of San Jose and their two daughters, Kelli, 11, and Ashley, 19, are planning a trip to Camp Curry in May.

``I'm glad the attendance is down,'' Steve Bicknell said with a laugh. ``That's good news for me. It will make us want to go more.''

Contact Paul Rogers at progers@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5045.



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Postby doug395 » Wed Jan 24, 2007 7:15 pm

Hope this trend keeps up and we get some rain soon. My favorite time
to be in Yosemite is May, when the water is high and the Dogwoods are in bloom.

http://dmphotography.smugmug.com/galler ... /123975327
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Postby SSSdave » Wed Jan 24, 2007 8:11 pm

Costs are up more than just that hefty $20 entrance fee. Inside the valley lodging and campgrounds are all rather pricy except for Camp 4. Outside the park, there are even more expensive lodging accomodations and no longer any cheap choices for dispersed camping along the Merced that less well to do campers used to use. Of course gasoline costs have risen so much a typical 450 mile round trip from the SF Bay Area is maybe 20 gallons of gas or $50. Also the last couple years the loop road around the valley has been a painful circuit to drive one's car due to all the detours and construction. The other factor is that there are far more choices of leisure activities today, all fighting to get consumer attention. On top of those choices is the pseudo worlds of tv/movies/internet is more dominant than ever. And people today are generally considerably less fit than those in my generation when visitors in mountains peaked. More likely just to waddle about alongside the roadside scenic pullouts and village areas than tackle the trails. Of course most visitors have always been from California and the California of 2006 is demographically very different with large percentages of ethnic groups and newcomers that are often barely aware of much beyond urban areas. ...David
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May

Postby AldeFarte » Thu Jan 25, 2007 12:39 am

Good choice Doug. While I am not there in May, the dogwood is one of my favorite plants. All seasons. Even their leaves are beautiful. Serviceberry is another. jls
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ps

Postby AldeFarte » Thu Jan 25, 2007 12:46 am

I encountered another that I found facinating in Garfield grove. I think it was a wild hazelnut. Small trees that grow in the redwood understory develope neat [interesting ] shapes. jls
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