Yosemite Planning, Part 1: Jason Keith Visits the Valley

On Saturday November 5, I flew into Fresno and drove up to the Valley where I crashed at Mike Gauthier’s cabin in Yosemite Village. Better known as “Gator” to his friends and colleagues, Mike formerly worked for the National Park Service on Denali and Rainier, served a two-year stint with the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and Department and Interior in Washington, DC, and is the newly anointed Chief of Staff to Yosemite Superintendent Don Neubacher. Besides being fun to hang out with, Gator is a life-long climber who has a unique insight into how his professional work and passion for climbing interact, including the implications in the recently released Merced Wild and Scenic River Plan (MRP).

Over the past few years The Access Fund has become increasingly involved in various management planning issues in Yosemite that either directly affect climbing access or the various ways, such as camping, that climbers visit the Valley. The latest of these has been the Merced Wild and Scenic River Plan, 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 is the subject of extensive litigation that resulted in a court ordering the park to determine and enforce a specific carrying capacity number for visitors in the Merced River planning area (the Valley) which in turn will govern any new developments in Yosemite.

While waiting out a snowstorm, Mike suggested that we call Superintendent Neubacher to see if he wanted to join us (on his day off no less) on a tour of the various potential new camping locations in the Valley that were contemplated in the MRP. He graciously agreed and spent half of his Sunday with us checking out some spots near Camp 4, Eagle Creek, El Cap Meadow, and Taft Toe.

Spending the day with Superintendent Neubacher and Gator also gave me an opportunity to discuss various climbing-specific issues in the Park including fixed ropes and anchors, Camp 4 stay limits, and how carrying capacity limits might affect climbing activity. That evening Gator and I drove down to El Portal to have dinner with Yosemite Climbing Association’s Ken Yager and Yosemite climbing ranger Jesse McGahey to discuss their involvement in the upcoming Outdoor Alliance Partnership Summit in Golden, Colorado this December. Ken and Jesse will provide a presentation of how their private-public partnership facilitated the development of the Yosemite Facelift which is the mother of all Adopt-A-Crags and considered a huge success.

On Monday November 7, I attended the MRP workshop in the Valley where Yosemite staff presented various planning scenarios for Yosemite Valley which could eventually turn into planning alternatives. This was one of a series of workshops designed to give the public a window into the status of the Park’s thinking on the MRP thus far to 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, your comments due November 30 – see below for Access Fund position). Yosemite staff handed off 30 copies of this workbook which I took to a few climber meetings I had scheduled in the Bay Area.

Later that day I also met with longtime Yosemite wilderness manager Mark Fincher who is on the planning team for the Tuolumne River Plan (camping, parking, amenities at stake – see AF comments here) and an upcoming park-wide wilderness plan which matters to climbers because
specific climbing management provisions governing fixed anchors and ropes on El Cap, for example, will likely be developed. That evening I drove to San Francisco to prepare for another round of meetings with climbers, NPS staff, and other stakeholders interested in Yosemite issues.