Video: Yosemite plans debated

By George Lewis Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/22/2004 6:33:06 PM ET 2004-04-22T22:33:06

In the middle of this idyllic valley, there’s a major uproar over plans to upgrade Yosemite.  The sight of construction equipment angers some environmentalists. “I can’t believe they went ahead with it,” said Greg Adair.

Adair is with the group called Friends of the Yosemite Valley — one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that has now halted work on park improvements.

According to Yosemite National Park spokesman Scott Gediman, “There are seven major projects here in Yosemite Valley and in El Portal that are halted, so it’s a huge impact.”

In 1997, a huge flood swept through Yosemite as the Merced River overflowed.  Afterward, the park service laid out plans for restoring the area around the river — plans endorsed by many environmentalist groups.

“It’s time to make changes that have long been recognized as needed,” said Jay Watson of the Wilderness Society. “These plans got at those changes and now they are in jeopardy and we’re gravely concerned about that.”

But other environmental groups, led by Friends of the Yosemite Valley, were outraged when the park cut down 400-year old trees to make some of those changes. The plan called for the removal of more than 1,000 trees.

Now, in response to the lawsuit, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has said that the park service needs to determine how many people can visit the river without harming it before constructing facilities to handle those visitors.

Interior Secretary Gayle Norton, visiting Yosemite on Earth Day, defended the planned improvements, “We want to have something that will be better for people as they come here to visit, and it is really, in the long run, going to be much better for the environment as well.”

“I would ask her simply what in the world she’s thinking on John Muir’s birthday enacting an illegal logging plan in Yosemite national park.  It’s atrocious,” Adair added.

One of the country’s most beautiful spots is now the subject of an ugly dispute.

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