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Sister Parks

Historic Yosemite photo, left, and Chinese ink drawing, right

Yosemite inspired Thomas Ayres to draw granite cliffs, left, as Huangshan inspired Hongren to do the same.

With precipitous granite cliffs, beautiful valleys, and towering pines, Yosemite and its three sister parks all hold similar fascinations for visitors. Those parks are Huangshan and Jiuzhaigou national parks in China, and Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. Although Yosemite was established earlier (in 1890) and is larger (747,956 acres) than its sister parks, it faces the same global challenges today as China and Chile do. Threats include carrying capacity and the effects of urban growth. Park boundaries protect parks from human impacts, but some negative factors, like air and water pollution, do not stop at the park border. Yosemite has a formal relationship with each of its parks to share resource management techniques, to preserve and increase natural biodiversity, to restore healthier habitats, and to encourage environmental education. Yosemite and all three of its related sister parks have received recognition from UNESCO (the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as World Heritage Sites or Biosphere Reserves. In 1984, Yosemite was designated a World Heritage Site.

Join the Yosemite Conservancy on a trip to China's two sister parks in September 2011.

Mountain tops rise about the clouds

Huangshan National Park has inspired artistic expression, including the floating mountains in James Cameron's digital "Avatar" designs.

Huangshan National Park (China)

On the other side of the world, Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) in eastern China’s Anhui province offers majestic waterfalls and world-famous pine trees amongst its granite cliffs. The Huangshan mountain range comprises many peaks above cloud level, including the 6,115-foot Lotus Peak. Amazingly, 60,000 stone steps, some of which might be 1,500 years old, are involved in ascending to the top of the range. Hot springs, retaining a constant water temperature of 107°F, can be found in the lush park that contains one-third of China's bryophytes and more than half of its ferns. Just as Yosemite's scenery has inspired artists like Thomas Ayres, Huangshan’s mountain cliffs and waterfalls have inspired artists like Hongren to use these peaks as a background in Chinese ink paintings for 1,000 years. Artistic expression generated at Huangshan has continued into the digital age--with movie maker James Cameron creating Avatar's floating mountains based on the Chinese park. In addition, more than 20,000 poems have been written in praise of the Huangshan region.

Map of eastern China

From www.chinahighlights.com

Yosemite’s official sister-park relationship began with Huangshan in 2006. Although revered for centuries, this park area was set aside in 1982 by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990, the core boundary covers 38,054 acres with an additional 35,089 acres serving as a buffer zone. Human impacts can threaten existing protections. To compare Yosemite and Huangshan: Millions of people explore the parks each year, encountering long waits due to Yosemite's traffic jams and Huanghan’s busy cable cars. The sister-park relationship allows shared park approaches to working with gateway communities, regional and local economies, friends groups, and partner organizations.

View more information about Huangshan National Park on the concessionaire's website.

Visitors on elevated bridge walk over blue water

Jiuzhaigou is known for its dozens of blue lakes so clear that visitors often see to the bottom.

Jiuzhaigou National Park (China)

In the Sichuan province of central China, thunderous waterfalls flow down cliffs in high alpine valleys backed by diverse forests of rhododendron, bamboo and pines in Jiuzhaigou’s 177,280 acres. Giant pandas and golden snub-nosed monkeys, both endangered, take refuge in the forests, amongst the limestone and karst cliffs and in the startling blue lakes. Temperatures remain cool year round, including summer, at elevations that rise from 6,500 feet to above 15,000 feet. Fall visitors brave chilly temperatures to view the temperate forest’s display of yellows, oranges and reds.

Map of Juizhaigou National Park


Prior to the area being a park, it was extensively logged until the late 1970s, when the Chinese government banned the activity there. The park’s establishment in 1978 led to its ecological restoration. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 and a World Biosphere Reserve in 1997, the park has pursued a scientific mission, completing a 2004 baseline study of wildlife and its other resources. Becoming a sister park in 2006, Jiuzhaigou sent four rangers to Yosemite the following year for three months to observe how the United States promotes conservation with ongoing exchanges. (Read about their 2007 visit to Yosemite in an article in The Stockton Record.) Jiuzhaigou faces critical carrying capacity concerns. The Chinese park must keep 2 million annual visitors from trampling the fragile terrain and disturbing its shy wildlife. To combat this, Jiuzhaigou uses boardwalks—just as Yosemite does in the Valley. The park—so remote that most visitors must take a 10-hour-plus bus ride to access it—also limits its number of daily admissions through bar-coded admission tickets and a central command room connected via radio to shuttle buses to distribute visitors and prevent overcrowding at any particular location in the park.

People are part of the Chinese park, too, with Tibetan natives living there for centuries. These Tibetans, who are no longer allowed to farm in their nine local Tibetan villages, have survived by taking park jobs, by working in tourist restaurants or by renting Tibetan costumes to visitors. Yosemite has a similar cultural story in which American Indians whose homelands became park lands created a means to participate in the new Euro-American economy by making crafts, such as baskets to sell, and by performing cultural demonstrations of food processing and ceremonial dancing to tourists. An Indian Village site, in Yosemite, has been re-created on the original village site where tribes from all over the region and beyond currently attend annual traditional cultural ceremonies important to keeping their culture alive.

View more information about Jiuzhaigou National Park on its official website.

Ragged peaks rise behind a river with fall colors

Torres del Paine is set amongst the eastern spur of the Andes.

Photo by Ken Watson

Torres del Paine National Park (Chile)

Not many sites can claim to be among the most unspoiled places on Earth—but Torres del Paine is such a place. Located in Chilean Patagonia, the park includes the geologic Torres (Towers) del Paine, a portion of the Patagonian Icefield, and an endless number of lakes, glaciers, rivers and waterfalls within its 597,995 acres. The backdrop is the Paine massif, which is an eastern spur of the Andes, rising dramatically to 8,530 feet above the Patagonian steppe. Small valleys separate the spectacular granite spires, and clouds drape the mountain peaks in an ever-changing series of images. Hikers, and climbers, take in the sights several ways: a day trip to see the towers; a five-day walk on the popular “W” route; or an eight-day-plus trek on a circular path.

Map of southern Chile

Established in 1959 as Parque Nacional de Turismo Lago Grey, Torres del Paine changed its name in 1970 and was designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1978. Since 2000, the National Park Service and Chile’s Corporacion Nacional Forestal (CONAF) have cooperated in a number of conservation topics. On a broad U.S. tour in 2006, Torres del Paine park rangers visited Yosemite, impressed by the quality of services they experienced. In 2007, a sister-park partnership was signed, and Yosemite officials traveled to the Chilean park to develop a two-year action plan to encourage ways for the two parks to work together. In 2008, additional Yosemite staff traveled to Chile to continue the sharing of knowledge.

Despite the fact that Yosemite is in North America while Torres del Paine is at the bottom of South America, the parks face similar management concerns including limited resources, development pressure, threatened or endangered species, trail erosion, and the impact of global climate change. Employees of both parks emphasize education, research, and inventory and monitoring programs.

View the official Torres del Paine National Park website for more information.


Did You Know?

El Portal Boulder Bar

At the east end of El Portal, just west of Yosemite National Park’s boundary, changing river gradients, glacial history, and powerful floods have created a boulder bar with boulders much larger than typically found in such deposits. This is no ordinary boulder bar, however, for it contains massive boulders over a meter in diameter and weighing many tons.