The future of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, located within the south entrance to Yosemite National Park, is up for discussion, with a new Park Service plan put forth for public comment.
Proposed changes include the elimination of the commercial tram service and gift shop within the grove, and moving most of the parking to a new, expanded 269-vehicle lot at Yosemite's south entrance, two miles from the grove.
A public meeting about the preferred plan alternative will be held in the Forest View Room at Tenaya Lodge in Fish Camp from 2 to 3 p.m. Friday, April 12. The public comment period is open through May 7.
"I think we can really make a beautiful area for visitors to come and see," said Sue Beatty, restoration ecologist for Yosemite National Park. "I think we are missing a lot right now. We go by these giant sequoias that are absolutely beautiful and don't even see it, because there is so much noise there. There are big large delivery trucks that come to supply the gift shop, lots of vehicle noise, dumpster trucks, and I think once we can pull all of that development back, we'll have a very quiet, serene, beautiful experience that we are missing out on right now.
"So I really like to put that in people's imagination of what this place might be, so it can be a sacred place you enter and see these gigantic trees."
Park Service shuttle buses should be able to pick up visitors every eight minutes from the proposed south gate parking lot to transport them to the grove, with no new shuttles needed, Beatty said.
During the shoulder seasons, people will be allowed to drive up to the grove and park in the existing lower grove lot, where some parking spaces will remain, she said. Handicap parking will also be available in the lower grove during the summer season.
All the plan's alternatives focus on improving water water flow in the grove, calling for the repair and replacement of drainage culverts, and grading/outsloping of roads and trails within the grove to promote unimpeded sheet flow to tree roots.
Removing the commercial tram service would also improve the health of the sequoias -- reducing soil impaction and enabling the roads to be narrowed, accessible only to vehicles with handicap placards or occasional Park Service vehicles checking on communication equipment at Wawona Point, Beatty said.
Other proposed changes include the creation of an eight-car parking lot near the famous Grizzly Giant tree for individuals with handicaps, who could then hike on a new, flat trail to the tree.
The plan also calls for moving grove information from the museum building located in the grove to the new south entrance parking area, so more visitors get oriented before they begin hiking. The historic museum building would remain as a hiker's shelter.
About a quarter mile of road in the lower grove, that includes many trees in "prime giant sequoia habitat," would also be removed.
"We are following the progress of the Mariposa Grove plan," said Dan Cunning, chief executive officer of the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau. "We are greatly concerned with the possibility of the negative impact to the visitor should the present parking facility be relocated and there be a elimination of the tram service for guests, especially for those that may have difficulty walking in the grove."
The plan with all its alternatives and environmental impact statement is available on the park's website: nps.gov/yose/parkmgmt/mgrove_documents.htm. An informational webinar will be held online from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 9. Registration is available at http://yose.webex.com.
Public comments should be submitted in writing through the Planning Environment and Public Comment website at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/mariposagrove, or sent via email to email@example.com, via fax to (209) 379-1294, or mailed to Superintendent, Yosemite National Park, Attn: Mariposa Grove Draft Plan, P.O. Box 577, Yosemite, CA 95389.