YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — 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 getting rid of 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 boasts 1,200 square miles of wilderness. Most visitors end up in the 8-square-mile Yosemite Valley, home to the towering Half Dome and El Capitan granite monoliths, stands of pines and stair-step waterfalls.
The number of visitors to Yosemite Valley will be limited to 18,710 a day and 21,000 visitors a day during peak times — similar to traffic seen in the last several years. The park planned to ease congestion by adding shuttle buses and improving traffic flow.
Once capacity is reached, cars will be turned away and directed to other sections of the park. There will also be advance warning signs posted once traffic gets too heavy.
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.
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