Merced River Final Plan and Environemental Impact Statement
The Merced Wild and Scenic River Final Comprehensive Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (Final Merced River Plan/EIS) is divided into three volumes. Volume 1: Chapters 1-8 provides the framework for comprehensive management plan, as well as the range of alternatives. Volume 2 contains Chapters 9-13, which provides the analysis of impacts associated with each alternative and information about consultation efforts. Volume 3 contains Appendices A-T which provide additional detail and specific evaluations to support the plan's framework and decisions.
Public involvement has been a cornerstone of the planning process. Over 30,000 comments were received on the draft plan during a formal public comment period, which ran from January 8, 2013 through April 30, 2013. Throughout plan development, the park conducted over 60 public meetings, both in the park, and throughout the state. The park also conducted several webinars to help people understand some of the more complex elements of the plan so they could provide informed comments. Many of the changes between the draft and final plan were the direct result of concerns raised during public meetings, agency and tribal consultation, and in public comments.
The final preferred alternative (Alternative 5: Enhanced Visitor Experience and Essential Riverbank Restoration) is based on guiding principles that include restoring natural conditions to riparian areas, riverbanks and meadows, modifying the transportation system to provide a better visitor experience in Yosemite Valley, enhancing recreational opportunities, and reducing or eliminating unnecessary facilities and services in the river corridor.
Under the selected alternative, visitors to Yosemite Valley will see marked improvements in the transportation system, including more efficient parking and traffic flow. Coupled with enhancements to meadows, improvements to river access, and extensive riverbank restoration, the visitor experience will be significantly improved. Visitors to Yosemite Village will experience an enhanced "sense of arrival" to the heart of Yosemite Valley, as the plan fully integrates the primary day-use parking area with pathways to visitor services, restrooms, and food service.
Specific highlights of the Final Merced River Plan include:
Protecting the Merced River's Health and Other Resources
Preserving and Enhancing Recreational Opportunities
· Camping will be increased by 37% in Yosemite Valley. This includes building 72 sites in the location of the former Upper and Lower River Campgrounds, 35 walk-in sites east of Camp 4, and 87 sites at the existing Upper Pines Campground. An additional 40 drive-in campsites will be provided at the Trailer Park Village in El Portal.
· The ice skating rink in Curry Village will be moved to its historical 1928 location outside of the river corridor.
· Lodging is increased slightly corridorwide (3%) and in Yosemite Valley (5%).
· Bicycle and raft rentals will remain available in the park, with rental facilities located outside of the river corridor.
· Picnic and day-use opportunities will be improved and expanded at Yosemite Village, Church Bowl, and Happy Isles.
· Wawona stables services will be expanded.
Improving Transportation System
· Additional shuttle bus service in Yosemite Valley will alleviate private vehicle congestion.
· Regional transit to the park is expanded.
· Park roads will be rerouted to improve traffic flow and visitor safety by reducing vehicle-pedestrian conflicts.
· Significant changes to traffic circulation patterns will be made to meet ecological restoration goals and reduce traffic congestion.
· There will be an 8% increase in parking for day use visitors to Yosemite Valley. This increase includes a new 300-car parking lot located in El Portal with shuttle service to the Valley.
Managing Visitor Use to Ensure High Quality Visitor Experience
· Marked improvements in parking availability, traffic flow, and signage, along with the removal of administrative and industrial facilities will give visitors an enhanced "sense of arrival" to Yosemite Village and the heart of Yosemite Valley.
· Visitation levels will be similar to those seen over the past several years. A user capacity of 18,710 people at one time is established for Yosemite Valley, which will accommodate a peak visitation of approximately 20,100 visitors per day.
· User capacity for East Yosemite Valley will be managed using advanced monitoring and communication systems and rerouting traffic at the El Capitan Traffic Diversion prior to reaching established limits.
· Overnight-use capacity will be managed through wilderness permits and reservation systems for lodging and camping.
The Final Merced River Plan/EIS presents and analyzes six alternatives. Alternative 1 (No Action) would have continued current management and trends in the condition of river values. Alternatives 2, 3, 4, and 6 would have protected and enhanced river values by improving conditions that threaten sensitive meadows, archeological resources, and scenic vistas. The action alternatives varied primarily with regard to the degree of restoration proposed and the amount of visitor use that would be accommodated.