When you visit a National Park, you expect a good dose of nature, right?
The first National Park, Yellowstone, was created in 1872. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service, and since then the National Park System has developed to include more than 400 areas covering more than 84 million acres, protecting a whole lot of natural area and making sure that we have access to it.
While National Parks provide access to beautiful, pristine places, sometimes that access can do more harm than good. There are roads, parking areas, gift shops and campsites. Go to a National Park in the height of tourist season and it might feel hard to get those quiet, pristine landscapes that you dreamed of, especially if you don’t get off the main drag and visitors centers.
This year marks Yosemite National Park’s 150th birthday, but it also marks the beginning of a $36 million project that’s meant to restore a little bit of Yosemite’s wildness. The goal is to remove the noise, clutter and cars from Mariposa Grove, a 550-acre grove that’s home to some of the largest trees in the world, and restore it to a quieter, more awe-inspiring place.
“The first thing you see now is the gift shop, and the first thing you hear is a generator,” said Sue Beatty, a Yosemite biologist.
Generators and gift shops aren’t really what wilderness areas are made of, but in the day and age of tourism, Yosemite has had to accommodate large crowds, and those crowds have left their impact. “Parking lots and poorly designed hiking trails are compacting the roots of the trees, some more than 2,000 years old,” according to the Washington Post.
To deal with that, “the park plans to remove Mariposa Grove’s 113-space parking lot and replace it with a new lot two miles away at the park’s south entrance near Wawona, with room for 260 cars,” reports San Jose Mercury News. “Although disabled visitors still will be able to drive to the grove, starting in August 2016 all other visitors will ride shuttle buses that come and go every 10 minutes from the new lot. The gift shop will be removed. Old pit toilets will be replaced with modern restrooms; new trails and signs will go in. The tourist tram, ridden by nearly 100,000 people a year, will be discontinued.”
Park rangers and officials are hoping that this will help the park restore some of its natural prowess for which the park was founded in the first place.
“We want it to be a more reverential experience, and less commercial,” Beatty said. “More like it was in 1864.”
Photo Credit: Koshy Koshy