By Sammy Caiola
Native Foods Cafe
There’s a fine, fine line between admiring nature and abusing it. It’s a line that Yosemite National Park straddled last week as it contemplated banning a wide variety of recreational activities in Yosemite Valley in order to protect lands. The eventual compromise and the conversation that led up to it raise a number of questions about the way humans currently approach the outdoors, and I’d like to briefly delve into some of them here.
Last year, the park released plans to prohibit dozens of recreational activities in order to restore natural conditions along the Merced River. The decision was met with outrage from citizens and members of Congress, who argued that visitors had the right to enjoy the park through activities like biking and kayaking.
Native Foods Café uses this image courtesy of allyosemite.com.
On Friday, the park released a new 3,000-page plan that accommodates many recreational concerns but still makes notable changes. People can still rent bikes and rafts along the Merced, but those rental stations will be located further down the river. A number of swimming pools that were originally slated for removal will be saved and nearly 200 campsites will be added to the park, but a 1920’’s-era ice rink will be moved away from the river, and the west end of the valley will not be developed, despite earlier motions to do so.
Yosemite, an 1,200 square mile sprawl of scenic wilderness, is the third most visited national park in the United States and is distinctive in its dense pine patches and steep waterfalls. Under the new plan, the number of visitors to the valley will be limited to 18,000 per day, and 21,000 per day during peak times in an effort to ease congestion.
Native Foods Café uses this image courtesy of nationalparks.org
Personally, I think this is a really good decision and I’m proud of park officials for taking a stand. To me, the thing that makes nature so beautiful is its separation from the human world. It is an expansive and sacred thing that predates us and deserves our respect. Having spent a few months exploring New Zealand, a far less populated country with much more raw land, I have a constant need for wilderness that is quiet and pure. In America, that is rarely the case.
On too many occasions I’ve embarked on a hiking trail only to realize it’s been paved for my ease and convenience. Too many overlooks have been spoiled by the sounds of cyclists and kayakers below. As much as I understand that everyone needs a fix of outdoor activity, we need to space it out in a way that doesn’t ruin it for everyone. Not to mention the irrevocable damage that mass human presence does to the land.
It’s my hope that other national parks will follow Yosemite’s lead in keeping as much land as possible reserved for viewing purposes only and preventing developers from turning public lands into tourist traps. No matter how many people take interest in a national park, it should never feel like a resort. It’s a wilderness. Let’s not tame all of it for our own selfish purposes.