April 22, 2013

Regarding the Merced River Plan: Letter to Yosemite Planning

Confusion generated by the possible removal of the Art Activities Center, pools, bike & raft rentals, stone bridge and ice rink throws much of the public discussion away from environmental protection and toward cultural preservation. This confusion stems from the NPS’ paradoxical mission in having to protect both environmental and cultural resources unimpaired.


One big problem is how to determine when the value of a cultural resource or activity justifies its impairment of a natural resource. I wonder if the MRP has any clear process by which to rate the value of cultural resources, or any evenhanded policy for comparing value-versus-impairment.


My wish for the MRP is that it not dismiss or undervalue the importance of various human activities, even though the activities may appear superficial or unrelated to the park experience.


It is through culture that people feel and value Yosemite, and express themselves. It is essential that we intentionally bring our cultural activities to places that inspire us—where we can learn to more deeply express the connection between the humanities and nature itself. To deny or subdue our identity while in Yosemite is to miss the point that human nature is part of Yosemite’s nature, and that the clash between them is often merely illusion.


What people do while they’re in Yosemite must not be confused with why they come to Yosemite or how long they stay. Art, pools, biking, rafting, skating and horseback riding are not why people come here and are not why people stay however long they stay. I believe that the value of these activities outrank whatever little impairment they may bring.


Who knows, if we were to apply an evenhanded policy of human valuation-versus-impairment, we might find that even as we value the presence of the Yosemite Chapel over its impairment of a mountain meadow, we might value a stone bridge over its impairment of riparian habitat.


Perhaps it’s worth finding out before acting.


The MRP values roads and historic buildings within the Merced River corridor over the impairment they bring, but perhaps inestimably higher is the value of letting people be themselves and feel a sense of participation within Yosemite’s environment.


Tom Bopp