Yosemite upgrade in view
HISTORIC OVERLOOK TO GET OVERHAUL
By Paul Rogers
San Jose Mercury News
Article Launched:09/28/2007 01:32:20 AM PDT
One of the most iconic views in the American West - Yosemite Valley framed by El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls and Half Dome - draws millions of people every year to a wide spot in the road at Yosemite National Park known as Tunnel View.
Now, after little change since its construction in 1933, the celebrated overlook two miles west of Yosemite Valley is about to get an overhaul, even a tree-cutting.
The National Park Service is finalizing a $2.3 million plan to expand public viewing areas, install new interpretive signs and improve traffic safety at the spot, whose panoramas were made famous by photographer Ansel Adams. Construction is scheduled to begin in the spring and finish by next fall.
"Tunnel View is probably the most well-known view in the park," said Yosemite National Park Superintendent Michael Tollefson. "What we're trying to do is make the traffic flow better and safer, and improve the viewing area so that the visitor has a better experience."
Potentially the most controversial part of the plan calls for cutting down about 20 ponderosa pines and other trees that have grown to block the celebrated view for the 3 million tourists who visit every year.
So far, however, even the Sierra Club supports cutting the trees.
"I suppose there will be some people who think they should never cut a tree. But those iconic views are important," said George Whitmore, chairman of the Yosemite Committee of the Tehipite Chapter of the Sierra Club, which includes the park.
Whitmore noted that stewards of the park, which was first protected by Abraham Lincoln in 1864, have cut trees for years to preserve views.
"Unless people can see the natural wonders and the beauty - the reason why the park was established in the first place - they might say 'all I see is a bunch of bushes and trees. What's so special about Yosemite?' " he said. "If you can't see it, you're going to lose the political support for protecting it."
The Tunnel View parking area dates to 1928, when National Park director Stephen Mather approved an upgrade of Yosemite's road system. The idea of a tunnel was to avoid creating a huge road scar on the side of the valley's breathtaking canyon walls.
Starting in 1931, crews of up to 200 men working with blasting powder and huge drills carved out the Wawona Tunnel through three-quarters of a mile of solid granite. It was the longest vehicle tunnel in the American West at the time.
More than 4,000 people turned out when the tunnel, along Wawona Road, opened in 1933. Interior Secretary Harold Ickes read a letter from President Franklin Roosevelt. A "parade of progress" made up of local Indian tribes, prospectors with burros, historic stage coaches, and lumber wagons proudly marched through.
Ever since, the parking lot and overview on the eastern edge of the tunnel has provided a backdrop for countless family vacations, and photographers of every stripe.
"I was about 6 or 8 years old the first time I saw that view," said Rep. George Radanovich, R-Fresno, whose district includes the park. "I was in my parents' car. We always had the tradition of going through and honking our horn in the tunnel," he said. "When we first came out and saw that view, you don't forget that."
Radanovich has occasionally clashed with park officials and environmentalists over their efforts to remove parking spaces from Yosemite. He called the Tunnel View upgrade "a great idea" and "long overdue."
Parks officials are still collecting public input on the project, whose costs will be split with the Yosemite Fund, a San Francisco non-profit group. Of four options, park planners' preferred plan calls for keeping 61 parking spaces, compared with 64 there now. It would enlarge viewing areas by sixfold, separate cars from people with low granite walls, and put traffic-slowing devices in the tunnel.
Visitors still will have access to the site during the construction.
Many outdoor lovers consider the view of Yosemite Valley one of classic images of the American West, along with the Grand Canyon and Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. The landscape was captured first by 19th century painters, including Albert Bierstadt, whose work helped persuade Congress to preserve the park from loggers and sheep ranchers.
In the early 1940s, photographer Ansel Adams produced "Clearing Winter Storm" from the Tunnel View area with an 8x10-inch view camera. The black-and-white photo, taken as early December rains turned to snow, captured Yosemite Valley in a roiling, primeval state. Original prints today can sell for $50,000.
Adams, who lived in Yosemite at the time, died in 1984 at the age of 82.
"It is a familiar scene that speaks 'Yosemite.' It is very romantic. It is operatic," said Sarah Adams, his granddaughter. "It stirs the emotions. It is a classic Ansel Adams photograph."
Adams, whose family still runs the Ansel Adams Gallery in the park, cited a description written by the legendary photographer. It shows how the views change by the hour.
"I have been at this location countless times over many years, but only once did I encounter just such a combination of visual elements," he wrote.
IF YOU'RE INTERESTED
For more information, go to http://www.nps.gov/yose/parkmgmt/tunnelview.htm
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