Yosemite National Park Releases Final Merced River Plan
Earlier today, Yosemite National Park released their Merced Wild and Scenic Final Comprehensive Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, and we're very pleased to announce that the Park Service has improved and enhanced opportunities to enjoy Yosemite via kayak, canoe and raft.
The new plan places paddling on equal footing with other activities in the Park by managing visitor numbers similar to hiking and other backcountry uses. The plan considers river segments as "water trails" or backcountry routes. Because many of the river segments will be open to boating for the first time, Yosemite has set initial capacities to allow for reasonable access while protecting river values. Responsible boating use that is below the capacities outlined in the plan will likely require little management beyond monitoring use levels. In fact, the percentage of visitors who boat is probably under 5% even in the peak use summer season. This is comparable to the numbers who climb or backpack within Yosemite National Park.
Within Yosemite Valley, boating levels on the popular reach between Lower River Campground and Sentinel Beach will remain similar to current levels. Additionally, 45 private boaters will be able to run the river through the length of Yosemite Valley. Outside of the Valley, daily use limits will range between 10 people per day (through the technically challenging Class V+ Merced Gorge) and 50 people per day (from El Portal to the Park boundary). We have excerpted and uploaded portions of the Plan that relate to boating, which you can view for more specific information. While these numbers allow a certain number of boaters per day, hydrology will manage boating use too. Boatable flows rarely extend through the end of July, and we expect that most people will boat when flows are optimal between March and May.
In order to paddle or row on rivers in the Park, boaters will be required to have boats that are in good condition and designed to handle the class of whitewater on that reach. Running reaches that are Class II and above will require additional safety and self-rescue equipment. American Whitewater supports these requirements, as they are the best way to ensure that people with the necessary skills and equipment will be enjoying the river safely. We emphasize the importance of boating safely on all river reaches, with particular focus on the Class V+ section of the Merced after it leave Yosemite Valley (Merced Gorge).
The Plan outlines numerous Best Management Practices that will ensure that the sensitive resources within the Park will be protected. Boaters will be required to use established put-in and take-out locations, and should avoid sensitive riparian vegetation. Also, as part of the natural ecosystem, large woody debris in the river will remain in place. As on every river, paddlers are responsible for protecting and respecting the natural environment. American Whitewater worked at length to ensure that Park staff understood that paddlers will protect these sensitive areas.
We commend the staff of Yosemite National Park for their open and thoughtful process during the development of the Merced River Plan. From the beginning, they ran an open process and were willing to consider improving paddling opportunities in the Park as part of their analysis. They conducted a number of studies to evaluate the concerns of other park visitors and potential resource impacts relating to a possible increase in paddling opportunities. Based on a robust analysis and plenty of public dialog, the Park was able to find a balance that will allow for increased paddling opportunities and ensure resource protection. They did this in the midst of considering a myriad of other concerns, from restoring meadows to determining the number of visitors that should be allowed into the park each day. The Park successfully balanced resource protection and appropriate visitation levels, and we believe the final plan will preserve Yosemite and allow the public to enjoy the meaningful, awe-inspiring, and sustainable experiences in one of our most iconic National Parks.