In Yosemite National Park, new visitor infrastructure nurtures both the spectators and the sequoias.
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If you visit one of our national parks nowadays to commune with nature, you may find yourself having instead an experience of mass tourism. Many parks are huge. You’d expect plenty of elbow room. But much of any wilderness park is inaccessible to the public. Besides, people generally head for a few famous spots—you probably want to see those too—which quickly become overwhelmed. Attendance is up over the past few years. Infrastructure typically went in over decades, usually piecemeal, not by comprehensive plan, and for smaller crowds, so both visitor experiences and the places themselves become degraded. And the National Park Service has money problems. By 2017, the bill for deferred maintenance—apart from any new capacity—was $11.6 billion (see “Roads to Ruin,” LAM, February 2016).
Still, where it can, often with help from citizen conservancies, the park service is commissioning landscape architecture interventions to redress the gridlock and throngs. Most people will still find themselves among multitudes of strangers, but these redesigns can provide more authentically natural, less contrived interactions with the environment. The Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park was until recently a prime example of the problem. A project there, which opened to the public last summer, is a model response. Half of its $40 million cost was donated by the Yosemite Conservancy. It was designed by Seattle-based Mithun.
Mariposa Grove actually has two concentrations of the great trees, the lower grove and the upper grove. Before, when you reached the lower grove you were in a parking lot. Several giant sequoias were stranded there like islets in the sea of asphalt; you might not even have realized you’d arrived. This lot filled up early. Overflow traffic returned some seven miles on a winding, two-lane park road to Wawona, where there is a historic hotel, a convenience store, and a small Yosemite history museum. Visitors there caught a shuttle back to the grove. But Wawona had only “a makeshift drop-off for the shuttle and no parking infrastructure for the hundreds who would come through—quite a fiasco,” says Christian Runge, ASLA, a Mithun senior associate.
When you finally shuttled back to the lower grove, “there was a sense of confusion,” Runge says. “Wayfinding wasn’t clear. There were redundant loops of trails. They had to have rangers telling Continue reading Giant Steps