Touchstone Blog Archive
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
  Merced River Plan Feedback
The November 30th feedback deadline for the Merced River Plan is fast approaching and any climber that loves Yosemite, needs to get involved.

In 1987 the U.S. Congress designated the Merced a Wild and Scenic River to preserve its free-flowing condition and to protect and enhance the unique values that made it worthy of special protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Both the Merced River above, through, and below Yosemite Valley, and the South Fork of the Merced above, through, and below Wawona have this special status.

In accordance with the law, the National Park Service (NPS) is preparing the Merced Wild and Scenic River Comprehensive Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (Merced River Plan/EIS) for the 81 miles of the river within Yosemite National Park. When completed, the plan will guide future management of activities in the river corridor, including site-specific actions needed to protect the river in Yosemite Valley, El Portal, and Wawona.

What this means for climbers is that access to boulders and cliffs around the river are in serious jeopardy. The river often floods and the boundaries of the river are being defined in this plan. The Atlantis boulder, the short climbs at Arch Rock, and many of the river side boulders and cliffs can be shut down by the Merced River Plan. The National Park service needs to hear from climbers so that their concerns can be addressed.

This is the NPS link for information:

This is the link to the workbook:

A number of climbers are taking part in the conversation but a stronger voice from the climbing community is needed.

You can help by:
Joining the Access Fund
Getting involved with the Yosemite Climbing Association
Spreading the word about the plan, and discussing it with other climbers

Jason Keith, the Senior Policy Advisor at the Access Fund, commented:

Over the past few years Yosemite National Park has been ramping up various management planning initiatives that either directly affect climbing access or the various ways that climbers visit the Valley such as camping. The latest of these has been the Merced Wild and Scenic River Plan (MRP) which concerns essentially everything climbers do in the park before they actually put their climbing shoes on: transportation, parking, camping, amenities, and site specific issues such as potential changes to El Cap Meadow and Camp 4. See AF’s MRP scoping comments here.

The MRP has been the subject of extensive litigation that resulted in a court ordering the park to determine and enforce a specific carrying capacity limits for visitors in the Merced River planning area (the Valley) which in turn will govern any new developments in Yosemite. Recently the Park hosted several MRP workshops where Yosemite staff presented various planning scenarios for Yosemite Valley which could eventually turn into planning alternatives. These workshops were designed to give the public a window into the status of the Park’s thinking on the MRP thus far, avoid any surprises, provide an opportunity for public comment, and foster relationships among various Yosemite interest groups including the litigants of the MRP. This workshop was greatly facilitated by the MRP workbook (get your copy here). The Park is also developing the Tuolumne River Plan (camping, parking, amenities at stake – see AF comments here).

Climbers interested in Yosemite issues should take of look at the MRP workbook and get your comments in by November 30. The Access Fund’s positions on appropriate MRP planning alternatives are as follows:

Yosemite planners should work to reverse lodging/camping ratio (currently 60/40) to provide more camping and less emphasis on lodging (move lodging to the park boundaries). Providing more camping in the Park, and limiting lodging in the park to rustic/primitive accommodations, is consistent with the NPS's own management policies that promote visitors having a direct relationship to Park resources. Adjusting this ratio would also be more consistent with a national park instead of the luxury resort or amusement park that Yosemite often resembles. AF’s Valley Plan comments are found here.

Park planners should include in the MRP the several "improvements" for Camp 4 that were contemplated in Lodge Redevelopment Plan (which was stalled by the MRP litigation). These improvements include showers, fencing to encourage vegetation, limited loud bus noise, foul weather cooking pavilion and communal fire, and a nearby location for Ken Yager's Yosemite climbing museum. In addition to focusing on more camping in the Park, planners should also improve the quality of the camping experience, especially at locations such as Camp 4 where climbers are forced into highly dense and low-quality campsites. Planners should recognize the historic importance of this campground and improve some of the basic amenities such as the bathrooms. See AF’s previous comments on Camp 4 planning here.

Yosemite planners should restore as much camping as possible to sites that have already been disturbed such as the Pine and Oak lodging units and the Rivers Campground that were destroyed in the 1997 flood. These areas in particular could be engineered with the recognition that they will again be flooded. Plan maps should indicate flood plain areas where shallow flood depths and low water velocities make the development of campsites feasible. Planners should establish diversity of camping opportunities (including walk-in, walk-to, and a "drop-off" your gear but walk-in model) and not just limit opportunities to drive-in campgrounds (where RV generators, for example, impact the experience) or the ghetto at Camp 4. The Park should bring campsite numbers at least back to pre-flood totals as contemplated in Yosemite's General Management Plan (there's currently a shortfall of 300 campsites), but any new sites should be focused on placement in the East Valley so that the largely undisturbed areas west of Camp 4 don't also suffer from campfire smoke and new infrastructure. The Access Fund has also long advocated for the addition of camping in the Park outside of Yosemite Valley.

The Park should ensure climbing needs are addressed in the MRP, particularly parking locations throughout Valley and the Merced Gorge segment (Cookie Cliff, Arch Rock, etc.).

Park planners should ensure that measures to restore or harden El Cap Meadow are not unsightly from above. The MRP should consider hybrid approach for boardwalk further west of typical climber use areas, and use fencing and other ways to focus people onto a few discrete paths into Meadow. The MRP should ensure that climbers can continue their traditional use of the Meadow.

Park planners should ensure that there is adequate day use parking while pursuing a range of transit strategies to reduce auto use in the Valley.

Non-resource based attractions and high-impact commercial amusements such as the swimming pool, skating rink, and horseback rides to Mirror Lake should be phased out.

The Plan should include a noise control element that addresses noise sources such as idling tour buses, motorcycles, trash collection, RV generators, the Green Dragon touring flatbeds and others.

Please let us know what you think! If you have any questions, ideas, or comments, email

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