Barcelona Field Studies Centre

Yosemite Falls restoration unveiled

Tuesday, April 19, 2005 (CNN)

Yosemite Falls
Visitors take in views of the lower falls at the newly restored Yosemite Falls area.

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, California (AP) -- A $13.5 million restoration project at Yosemite Falls offers tourists wider trails and a larger viewing area from which to observe the highest waterfall in North America.

The restoration unveiled Monday also included removing dilapidated buildings and exhaust-belching buses and repairing crumbling trails.

"It's an engagement with the landscape," said Bob Hansen, president of the Yosemite Fund, a private foundation established to preserve and restore park resources.

The waterfall, among the most visited spots in Yosemite National Park, draws 3.5 million visitors annually, officials say.

The changes include a widened trail that gently winds its way to the larger viewing area, which is lined with boulders for resting and preventing visitors from climbing into the chilly, crystal-clear water that cascades over craggy granite and plunges into a churning pool.

Other changes include a new, larger restroom built of wood and stone, a picnic area, a parking lot for cars set farther back from the trails and a separate bus stop for electric hybrid shuttle buses.

But the project is not without detractors. Some conservation groups argue that by becoming more tourist friendly, the area around the falls will attract more visitors and suffer as a result.

"This is way, way overdone," said Joyce Eden, co-director of Friends of Yosemite Valley. "It degrades the natural environment as well as the visitor's experience -- the quieter experience that's more connected to nature."

The old approach to the 2,425-foot falls had not been improved in decades. Park officials believed it detracted from the area's natural beauty.

"It didn't match the experience of the falls," park spokesman Scott Gediman said.

But Eden argued that the wider trails could interfere with the valley's natural processes. The trails would be appropriate in an urban setting, but not in a national park where nature is supposed to be protected, she said.

The restoration was proposed in 1994 as the first major part of the $343 million Yosemite Plan, an ambitious, multiyear restoration effort.

Yosemite Management