Plan to protect river through Yosemite Valley delayed

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Yosemite Valley

Visitors enjoy the scenery at Yosemite National Park. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times / March 24, 2013)

WASHINGTON — The National Park Service said it needs five more months to finish a plan to “protect and enhance” the Merced River, which runs for 81 miles inside Yosemite National Park.

The park service is facing criticism for proposing to eliminate some popular tourist amenities in Yosemite, including bike and raft rentals, swimming pools, a snack stand, an ice-skating rink and some hiking trails

Kathleen Morse, the park’s chief of planning, said Tuesday that officials intended to complete the plan by the end of the year rather than this month, as previously projected.

The effort to restore the river corridor and habitat to their natural states has been overshadowed by controversy, she said. The proposals include removing or relocating popular tourist concessions that are deemed too close to the riverbank. The plan also would add new walk-in campgrounds and increase day-use parking.

“It’s unfortunate that there isn’t more discussion about the positive things coming out of the plan,” Morse said, such as easing the gridlock that often greets drivers in Yosemite, which draws 4 million visitors a year.

The park service is preparing the plan under a 1987 law that designated the Merced as a “wild and scenic” river, giving it a high level of federal protection. Local environmental groups had successfully challenged two previous plans in court as inadequate.

Local business groups and others have criticized the latest blueprint as harmful to commercial operations in and around Yosemite.