YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — Bridalveil Fall is the first breathtaking waterfall that millions of visitors see when they first enter Yosemite Valley. Its pounding, cascading waters roar down 620 feet, gracing countless vacation photos and framing legendary images from Ansel Adams and other famed photographers.
But the area, one of Yosemite National Park’s iconic locations, is marred by old, smelly pit toilets, a congested parking lot and cramped, crumbling asphalt trails, all dating back decades. Now, Yosemite officials are putting the final touches on plans for a $13 million restoration of the area, with half the funding coming from a nonprofit group, the Yosemite Conservancy, based in San Francisco.
The new plan will feature a larger parking lot, modern flush toilets, interpretive signs and wider hiking trails with wooden boardwalks and more accessible features designed in the classic granite and pine national park style of the 1930s.
“The falls is doing fine, but the facilities at the base of the falls haven’t changed since the 1960s,” said Frank Dean, president of the Yosemite Conservancy, and a former ranger at Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Sequoia national parks. “Until last month there was still a phone booth there. It’s like a time warp. It needs a makeover.”
Yosemite officials are putting the final touches on a $13 million restoration plan of the area, with half the funding coming from a Bay Area non-profit group, the Yosemite Conservancy. The new plan will feature a larger parking lot, modern flush toilets, interpretive signs and wider hiking trails with wooden boardwalks and more accessible features designed in the classic granite and pine national park style. The project will begin in the spring of 2019 and be completed a year later.
Yosemite officials began the process last year. They released an environmental study in February, and expect to finalize plans this summer. Construction on the trails should begin this fall, with the heavy work starting next spring, and the entire project finished a year later, in 2020. Bridalveil Fall will remain open next year during construction, Dean said.
“The parking lot gets clogged. It’s not configured well. And the bathroom literally stinks,” said Scott Gediman, a spokesman for Yosemite National Park. “There are safety concerns on the trail going to the falls. Sometimes it’s a sheet of ice, and people fall.
“The goal is preserving the area,” Gediman added, “getting people to the falls, improving the trails, getting as much parking as we can and making it more of an experience, just like at Lower Yosemite Falls.”
The blueprint calls for expanding the parking lot by about 24 spaces to hold 80 cars, but reconfiguring the lot so that it doesn’t grow significantly in size. The old compost toilet bathrooms with four stalls will be torn down and replaced with 14 flush toilets.
A new gathering, viewing, and orientation plaza will be added near the restrooms. It will include benches and signs describing the history, wildlife and geology of the area. The new design includes bear boxes, animal-proof trash and recycling receptacles, and upgraded, re-routed trails, with two viewing platforms instead of one.
Asphalt on the trails will be removed but stone bridges built by the U.S. Cavalry in the years before 1916, when park rangers were first appointed to Yosemite, will remain.
“It seems like it will be better. The way it is now is a mess,” said Alan Carlton of Alameda, chair of the Sierra Club’s Yosemite Committee. “We support the plan. We don’t want more development on that end of the valley, but this isn’t really expanding development.”
Park officials also plan to cut down about 100 conifer trees that limit views of the falls, as part of a national parks policy that allows trimming and cutting back trees and other vegetation to improve views that have become blocked over the years in places that historically were not as thick with vegetation.
“We continue to strive for the balance of visitor access and resource preservation,” said Gediman. “We have a dilapidated facility and we are looking to minimize the impact on the natural environment and maximize the visitor experience.”
Half of the money for the project came to Yosemite as part of an obscure law, the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013. Under the law, signed by President Obama, the federal government is selling some of the massive amounts of helium it has stockpiled in an underground facility in Amarillo, Texas, since the 1920s, and $50 million of the proceeds is going to national parks for maintenance projects that have matching funding from private donors. The helium reserve was set up to provide helium for dirigibles and airships, but then was used in military applications during the Cold War. Yosemite applied for, and got a $6.5 million grant from the fund, and the Yosemite Conservancy agreed to put up $6.5 million to match it.
Since 1988, the conservancy has donated roughly $120 million to Yosemite National Park in private donations. The money has paid for major upgrades to facilities around Lower Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, Tunnel View, Olmstead Point and other locations. One of the conservancy’s projects, a renovation of the trails and facilities at Mariposa Grove, the giant sequoia grove on Yosemite’s southern edges, opens in June to the public following construction.
“There’s a tremendous need to have facilities for visitors,” said Brian Ouzounian, co-founder of the Yosemite Valley Campers Coalition, a group that advocates for more camping facilities in the park. “It’s a long, winding road into the valley. I had a disabled brother. I know what it’s like to need a comfort station and the proper facilities. This project is long overdue.”
https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/03/28/ ... fall-area/