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Yosemite To Require Day-Use Reservations

Eric Brazil San Francisco Examiner

With the struggle to recover from January’s ruinous floods still under way, Yosemite National Park officials are planning to require day-use reservations for cars.

Although the plan is still in the conceptual stage and details are missing, the goal is clear: a 25 to 35 percent reduction in traffic during peak summer months.

It’s an emergency move brought on by severe damage to Highway 140, which reaches Yosemite Valley via Merced and Mariposa and normally carries 35 percent of its traffic.

“We’re not making any arbitrary decisions about how many visitors can enter the valley - these are simply basic decisions on infrastructure,” park spokesman Scott Gediman said Tuesday.

“We need to make sure the road system, sewer and water can accommodate visitors. … If all of a sudden the gates open, we couldn’t support” the visitor influx, he said.

It will be several weeks before the day-use reservation plan is made final, Gediman said.

Jay Watson, regional director of the Wilderness Society, said the plan “could very well be an opportunity to test a model for a more permanent reservation system.”

The vehicular reservation system will mark a first for tourist-friendly Yosemite, which receives more than 4 million visits a year. Advance reservations to use the park’s most popular hiking trails have been required for some time.

Yosemite Valley has been closed since the Jan. 1-3 floods, and park officials say it will remain closed until sometime next month.

The Merced River chewed huge chunks out of Highway 140 during the floods, damaging the roadbed in 36 locations. Rock slides also fractured the valley’s sewer line to El Portal in several places. The sewer line is still not fully working.

Park officials fear that the valley’s two other access roads, Highway 41 via Wawona and Highway 120 via Groveland and Big Oak Flat, won’t be able to handle the summer traffic.

The floods, which caused an estimated $178 million in damage, have accelerated park officials’ longterm plans for reducing the so-called “human footprint” on the valley.

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