FRESNO, Calif. — Since an avalanche of boulders smashed part of Yosemite National Park's Curry Village in 2008 and sent school children running for their lives, the historic wooden cabins have been frozen in time behind a temporary barricade.
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Now park officials are seeking permission to remove the century-old lodging and a few other historic homes to keep visitors from trespassing to view the structures, which are slowly deteriorating because of the elements, vandals and nesting animals.
"It's become an attractive nuisance," said park spokesman Scott Gediman. "If there's a fence there and some reason to go over there they will."Story: Where are the people of color in national parks?
An environmental assessment released Tuesday calls the area a "major risk to public health and safety for visitors, as well as park employees who patrol the site."
The environmental review of 72 buildings in an area below the sheer granite face of Glacier Point recommends removing the cabins, salvaging the materials and allowing the area to return to its natural state.
Other options under review include keeping some of the most historic structures maintained and in place until they can be moved elsewhere, or keeping just those that represent different architectural styles. Both plans would still expose park employees to danger.
Moving the oldest cabins to other locations raises other issues by creating landscapes that are historically inaccurate, Gediman said.Slideshow: America's national parks (on this page)
What to do with this large chunk of the popular Yosemite lodging area has been an issue since October 2008, when the equivalent of 570 dump-truck loads of rock hit 17 cabins where youngsters on a field trip were staying. Nobody was seriously injured, but it was the second rock avalanche of that year, and a reminder that the beautiful Yosemite is still a wild and sometimes dangerous place.
An Associated Press investigation found subsequently that park officials had known about the potential danger for years. Park officials eventually declared one-third of the popular family campground beneath Glacier Point a "rockfall hazard zone" and fenced it off.
Since 2008 the rows of charming 1920s-era wooden cabins nestled amid boulders, incense cedar and black oak have been awaiting their fate as prescribed by the National Historic Preservation Act.What's behind all the deaths at Yosemite?
The public can weigh in on the environmental assessment report through Sept. 9.
Rockfall is the single biggest natural phenomenon shaping Yosemite's dramatic, glacier-carved granite walls such as the iconic El Capitan and Half Dome.
Since 1999, 20 of the structures at Curry Village have been directly hit by boulders, and many more have been damaged by flying rocks. In August 2009 more than 300 guests at the park's majestic Ahwahnee Hotel were evacuated after tumbling boulders from the 1,600-foot Royal Arches formation landed in the parking lot. Dust from the avalanche temporarily obscured views of Half Dome.
Since 1857, at least 535 rockfalls in Yosemite Valley have killed 14 people and injured 62, more than at any other national park. Yosemite Valley is easily the most collapse-prone place in a park that receives over 4 million visitors a year.
Determining the future of the section of Curry Village that is in the rockfall zone has been tedious compared with the loss of nearly 300 tent cabins during the floods of 1997. Those cabins were not considered historic, so park officials demolished them.
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