YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — Yosemite National Park will cap visitors at current levels in its most popular areas, but it will add campsites and maintain bike and raft rentals under a plan announced Friday to protect the river that runs through its heart.
Tourists complained last year when the National Park Service considered dropping bicycle and river-raft rentals as part of a court-ordered effort to protect the Merced River, which received congressional “wild and scenic” designation in 1987.
Park officials have long wrestled with preserving the river while maintaining public access to Yosemite Valley, which receives the bulk of the park’s 4 million visitors each year.
The third-most visited national park, Yosemite has 1,200 square miles of wilderness. Most visitors end up in the 8-square-mile Yosemite Valley, home to the Half Dome and El Capitan granite monoliths, stands of pines and stair-step waterfalls.
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The number of visitors to Yosemite Valley will be limited to no more than 20,100 a day, in recent years reached only once or twice a year.
Environmentalists said the plan does little to ease overcrowding. The National Park Service “has chosen to nibble around the edges instead of taking a big bite out of the congestion and crowding that degrades Yosemite Valley,” said John Buckley, executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center.
After receiving thousands of public comments, park officials decided that people can still bike and raft, but the rental facilities will be moved farther from the river.
The park will add 174 campsites for a total 640.