Near-Record Visitation at Yosemite in 2011
Thanks in part to a spectacular year for waterfalls, about 4 million people visited Yosemite National Park in 2011, almost equaling the record set in 1996, the Stockton, Calif, Record reported.
Yet an annual report on national park visitation also shows significant changes in how people visit Yosemite, with many fewer guests actually able to sleep overnight inside the park's boundaries.
That is largely due to record Merced River floods in January 1997 that destroyed campgrounds and buildings in Yosemite Valley, the most popular part of the park. Many of the campsites were never rebuilt, frustrating tens of thousands of campers each year who can't get reservations.
"I get calls from families asking how come they can't get reservations; they are weeping on the phone," said Brian H. Ouzounian, who has camped in Yosemite all his life and is co-founder of Yosemite Valley Campers Coalition.
Park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said that before the flood, there were 1,525 rooms and 828 campsites in Yosemite Valley. Now there are 1,130 rooms 464 campsites.
Ouzounian and other advocates for traditional car camping say they believe park officials have been slow to restore camping because campers are less profitable than visitors who stay under a roof or who just make day visits.
Park officials, however, have insisted that they are taking care not to rebuild sites that would simply flood again and that could also contribute to polluting the river or causing other environmental impacts.
Cobb said it is possible the park will in the future add some more campsites in Yosemite Valley but that no decision is possible until the park completes its Merced River Plan, which governs the management of the river that is the heart of Yosemite Valley.
Cobb noted that Yosemite Valley is only 3 percent of the park, leaving hundreds of square miles of wilderness for those who don't want to face crowded conditions.
"The majority of our campgrounds and a lot of our lodging is not in Yosemite Valley. There are plenty of places to stay outside of Yosemite Valley," Cobb said.
Still, even high-country Yosemite campgrounds are booked during the summer, Cobb said. In the high country, however, many campgrounds also have sites available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
In Yosemite Valley, all sites are by reservation only.
Yet those who love the valley intend to keep coming, even as crowds make such visits more difficult. "For me and many others, it is hallowed ground," said Angela Caldera, a co-founder of Yosemite Valley Campers Coalition.
"I am planning to go this year," Caldera said. "We thought we would make it in June, but we will probably go in September when there are less crowds."