The Coastal Post - March, 1997

Wake Up, America

BY ALEX T. COUTTS

If 4.1 million visitors are providing $2.1 billion in economic benefits to Yosemite National Park, why is it still subsidized by taxpayers? We must remove parks from "the fleecing of America" list.

Mother Nature has shown her disgust with our federal government and returned Yosemite back to a wilderness area with a monster flood.

Congress must realize that Yosemite is a natural treasure of nature. Environmentalists have an opportunity to structure a new plan for bringing the park back to a real wilderness area.

My first visit to Yosemite was in April, 1925, as an eight-year-old, with Mother and Dad and two sisters, an older and a younger one. We were visiting the location for a new hotel starting the next year. Dad (A.D. Coutts, Jr., Steel Erectors, San Francisco) was awarded a contract to build a steel frame for the new Ahwahnee Hotel. We stayed 10 days at Camp Curry while plans were made to construct a by-pass road around Arch Rock so 600 tons of steel could be transported from El Portal trailhead to the job site. A single classroom school was also set up to teach 14 children while their fathers worked on the hotel. It proved to be a great experience for all the youngsters and a memory I still cherish.

Going back to the park each year until 1936, three times in winter, sleeping under a blanket of snow on trips with Boy Scouts, we had beautiful days and miles of hiking while learning new skills. I realized one of the most valuable lessons of my life, how to survive in the wilderness. It is raw survival, in that you may have no idea where you are, but you will never be lost as long as you stay within yourself.

Yosemite drew me like magnet with its majestic beauty and grandiose granite mountains reaching for the sky on each side of the valley floor. Having traveled the world extensively in my 60 years, I can say we have failed in the United States by not learning to live with Mother Nature.

Realizing that our federal government is on a fast track to destroy our national treasures by allowing commercialism into the park system, it is time to take action. When I returned from WWII in 1947, my father had to tell me that property I owned west of Myers Meadows (Foresta) has been taken by condemnation as the park had expanded its own boundaries.

My wife and I stayed at the Ahwahnee Hotel on February 14th, when it started snowing during dinner. Word flashed throughout the dining room, and everyone went out to spend 15 minutes cavorting in beautiful, powdery snow. The next morning, Yosemite Valley was under a 20" blanket of snow.

In 1953 we returned to Yosemite not realizing it was for the last time, and sat on a log with our bare feet dangling in the small stream that gurgled through our property. Returning the next day, we enjoyed peace and quiet while having a picnic lunch bathed in beautiful sunshine. It was a nice change from noisy traffic and loud people, not to mention a trash-can look that was impossible to ignore. The last straw was when a park ranger demanded that I surrender our key to the lock on a chain keeping a dirt fire road blocked to the public. We drove out on the new Oak Flat tunnel road for the last time.

A few positive suggestions:

1. Bring back the place John Muir called "incomparable" and like a cathedral.

2. Limit full-time living in park to on-duty rangers. Keep all activities within the boundary of Curry Village, Yosemite Village, Yosemite Lodge and Ahwahnee Hotel.

3. Use only electric modes of transportation in the park.

4. Keep all concessions along the boundaries of the park.

5. Build employee facilities, cottages, tent villages, trailer and RV areas at the boundaries of the park.

6. Congress has an obligation to fix roads, trails, rest areas, comfort stations, utilities and common areas.

7. Concession services must use their own insurance coverage. If one company is losing over $150 thousand a day, without competition, it is time they put some back.

8. All concessionaires must carry their own insurance. If not, why not?

9. Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt did state, "Make no mistake: Yosemite is a national treasure, and it will be repaired." He also said that Congress should help the economy of gateway communities by spending $178 million repairing park damage.

10. Make Yosemite a boon to the surrounding communities by allowing them to provide services in support of the park. An estimated $2.1 billion dollars in economic benefits per year will be better utilized under control of local communities surrounding the park-like Buck meadows, Fish Camp, El Portal, Midpines, and Oakhurst.

11. Secretary Babbitt should stand before Congress and request above funds (number six) and Mariposa County (line 10).

12. FAA should make the park a no-fly zone 10 mile from its border to eliminate polluted fallout from aircraft. Search and rescue missions must a cleared by FAA.

Never forget that water, both liquid and solid, carved Yosemite Valley into our fragile planet earth.