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Yosemite campers feel left out in the cold

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Yosemite campers feel left out in the cold

Postby ERIC » Mon Aug 20, 2007 3:19 pm

Yosemite campers feel left out in the cold
Balance between wants, needs of park sought

By Eric Bailey, Los Angeles Times | August 19, 2007
http://www.boston.com/news/nation/artic ... _the_cold/


YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. -- A creature of habit, Brian Ouzounian joins a swallow-like migration each summer to this park's glacier-cleaved valley.

Ouzounian has camped in Yosemite Valley in nearly every one of his 57 years, setting down stakes a week at a time with family and friends at the panoramic junction of the Merced River and Tenaya Creek.

He lives for those days and the memories of them. Morning hikes to the valley rim. Inner-tube afternoons on the river. Nights in a sleeping bag, under the stars. First light striking Glacier Point. Sizzling bacon, chirping birds, and the burbling river play a symphony to his soul.

But this family tradition, which used to seem as solid as the granite cliffs, now appears imperiled to Ouzounian. Add us, he says, to the federal list: The endangered campers of Yosemite.

Ouzounian, who petitions and protests, writes letters, and attends park meetings, believes he is leading a fight against the extinction of his kind.

People may still come in RVs and SUVs loaded with tents and sleeping bags and Coleman stoves, but the opportunities for camping -- the bargain-basement entree in Yosemite Valley -- have been in decline over the past decade.

After a flood in 1997 cut a destructive swath through the valley, National Park Service officials abandoned several riverfront campgrounds, justifying it as a way to shrink humanity's footprint and give nature a hand up.

The number of valley campsites fell 43 percent, from 828 slots to 475 today -- and only about 300 of those remaining are the car-camper spots that Ouzounian, a general contractor from West Los Angeles, considers akin to Mom and apple pie.

Just count the dearly departed, he says. Upper River Campground -- gone. Lower River Campground -- gone. Lower Pines Campground -- shrunk roughly by half. The group campground across the creek -- gone.

The past quarter of a century has seen a shift in lodging tastes, and as baby boomers have given way to Generations X and Y, the number of tent and RV campers in national parks across the United States has dropped 44 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of visitors in fixed-roof park lodgings has barely changed.The camping decline comes amid debate over how to balance nature's needs with the recreational agenda of national park visitors. Ouzounian believes Yosemite's planning efforts "have profit motives written all over them."

The valley now has nearly three times more lodging units than campsites, and in that he sees a socioeconomic plot, a push to place more valley visitors in expensive accommodations.

Campers, he says, are the underdogs: "We're at the bottom of the food chain. You've got a camping culture that's more than a century old, but the park service really doesn't want to hear from us." For nearly three decades, Ouzounian has been trying his red-faced best to be heard.

His latest effort is an online petition calling for the return of the flood-closed campsites. His goal is to send the thoughts of 10,000 campers to Congress. At last count, he had collected 700 signatures.

Park officials insist they remain bullish on camping, but they point out that times have changed.

A few generations back, 80 percent of Yosemite visitors spent the night, said park spokesman Scott Gediman. Now just 20 percent do, a sure sign that people's vacation patterns are changing. They're taking fewer days off, planning shorter excursions. Research shows that in the park, hotel-style accommodations are king.

Meanwhile, the park service is struggling to balance accommodating 3 million annual visitors and protecting nature.

Even before the flood sent the Merced a dozen feet above its banks, "there was a realization that the riverfront wasn't the best place for a campground," Gediman said, taking note of the fragile flora that can be trampled in the zeal to experience the outdoors.

"Camping is just as valid now as it was 50 years ago," Gediman said. "We just need to do it differently."

In the valley, Gediman said, it will mean designing campsites that maximize space and ease environmental impacts -- special RV spaces with electrical hookups to eliminate generator noise, and walk-in campgrounds that squeeze more people into a smaller space. The goal is to shoehorn in 638 valley campsites.

Construction was set, he said, for 30 such RV spaces and 59 walk-in campsites, but a long-running legal fight with environmental groups over plans for Yosemite Valley has put the work on hold.

Gediman said he finds it ironic that Ouzounian is supporting a lawsuit that is blocking campsite construction. "Brian has cut off his nose to spite his face."
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Postby rightstar76 » Mon Aug 20, 2007 9:58 pm

I talked about this with my wife tonight. She said part of it is credit cards. A long time ago people couldn't afford expensive vacations so they went camping. I chimed in it used to be the in thing to do to go camping, a folksy sort of thing. Today it's marketed as an athletic thing to do like on the REI catalogs with the water bladder, slim packs and energy bars. In the old days, it was a family affair with bacon and eggs for breakfast and hamburgers and hot dogs you'd buy from the general store for dinner. Not that it's healthy to eat that stuff but it was part of the breakfast table/dinner tradition that's long gone. Now family style camping is getting to be a thing of the past and we can't turn back the clock.
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Postby ERIC » Tue Aug 21, 2007 7:34 am

For backpacking, I think it also has something to do with group size limits. Boyscout groups, etc. used to be a common sight on the trail back in the day. Not so much anymore.
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