Comments for Public Scoping
By John P. DeGrazio
Yosemite National Park is currently accepting public comments for a proposed Wilderness Stewardship Plan until January 29, 2016. Part of the plan will focus on “the need to determine the extent to which commercial services will be performed in the Yosemite Wilderness.” As a commercial service provider who loves every second I spend in Yosemite Wilderness, I was compelled to add my public comments focused on this aspect of the plan. This is an exercise I encourage others to engage in, especially if you have ever participated in a guided tour that has raised your awareness for protecting our beautiful wild lands.
Before I reveal my public comments, I’d like to share this image from the Glen Aulin trail in Yosemite Wilderness that I shot this past summer.
We received a call from a group of friends in Los Angeles requesting a strenuous guided adventure hike. It was mid July and they wanted to see the true beauty of Yosemite so, naturally, they wanted a tour in Yosemite Valley. After careful consideration of their request, we suggested a trek outside of the Valley that visited a significantly less crowded area of Yosemite. We convinced them to select this lesser known area, and the results were undeniable. The group was eternally grateful for the decision and their appreciation for nature during this experience grew with every step of our journey together. The benefits of the service we provided was far reaching for all Yosemite visitors that day. We were able to enhance the experience for our guests while diverting traffic away from Yosemite Valley during one of the busiest days of the year. This is just one case study that illustrates the points I made in my public comments below. Please take a moment to read them and submit your own if you feel the park should not look to further restrict commercially guided hiking and backpacking programs in the Yosemite Wilderness.
YExplore Public Comments for proposed Wilderness Stewardship Plan in Yosemite National Park
I would like to share my public comments on the Yosemite Wilderness Stewardship Plan to address concerns about the future management of Yosemite Wilderness. While I respect the way the National Park Service currently manages the wilderness, there are always going to be aspects of the plan that I agree with more than others. I believe my organization plays a role in helping the park manage the wilderness and appreciate the ability to provide input. I look forward to future planning and would like my comments to focus on one statement in particular: “Finally, there is a need to determine the extent to which commercial services will be performed in the Yosemite Wilderness.”
I have spent a significant amount of time in the Yosemite Wilderness over the past decade, and my love for it has grown each year. I am the owner of a commercial organization that leads hiking and backpacking trips into Yosemite Wilderness and spend a lot of my free time there as well. My time in the wilderness has made me more aware of the world around me and has provided me an excellent setting to achieve significant personal growth in that time. I feel I have grown as a business and community leader as well as a human being. I think the biggest growth I’ve achieved is as a conservationist and preservationist of our wild lands. I am active in several volunteer groups and donate many of our company’s proceeds to several nonprofit organizations to help protect these lands, particularly in Yosemite.
I am adding this to my public comment because I believe that further limiting the already restrictive commercial use of the Yosemite Wilderness to hiking and backpacking groups would have negative consequences. I also believe hiking and backpacking have very low impacts on wilderness when proper ethics are practiced. In 1892 John Muir founded the Sierra Club with an idea to bring members of the public on trips into the Yosemite Wilderness to develop an appreciation for the land and create a community of future protectors. Muir’s plan worked well and the Sierra Club is a thriving organization. The Yosemite Conservancy also follows that premise while leading donors and customers into Yosemite Wilderness each year. I proudly contribute to the Yosemite Conservancy and regularly inform our guests of their efforts to help provide funding for the management of the national park. In addition, I have built my company, YExplore, on the Sierra Club model and have led a significant amount of visitors on Yosemite trips who have later become donors of Yosemite Conservancy and other organizations.
As leaders in Yosemite, commercial guiding groups are responsible for helping the park alleviate congestion away from many of the main frontcountry areas while providing exceptional visitor experiences for the public who wish to make special connections with nature. It is a role I take seriously, and I am proud of this responsibility as a steward. I relish the opportunity of laying the foundation of ethics for many first time visitors to wilderness while exploring diverse trails throughout the Yosemite Wilderness at different times each year. As an outdoor educator, I am able to spend each day with new audiences sharing my passion for protection of wilderness while spreading the message of the National Park Service in partnership with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Many in my groups adopt this passion as we continue this perpetual cycle of developing new stewards for wild lands.
In sum, commercial organizations perform many duties the National Park Service depends upon to help manage Yosemite National Park. We provide information and education to the public who use our services while promoting the park’s messages of conservation and protection of wilderness. Our sharing of this knowledge is not limited to the groups we lead as we also share vital information with many trail travelers we encounter. This is also helpful since the NPS does not employ as many wilderness rangers as they wish, and we often help provide assistance. I believe the biggest benefit of continuing to allow commercial hiking groups the opportunity to operate in wilderness is our ability to persuade visitors to stay away for the most crowded areas of the park, mainly in summer months, but in all times of year. We spend a good amount of time during our pre-tour selection process explaining the benefits of a wilderness hike as an alternative to sharing a steamy overcrowded Yosemite Valley trail in summer with thousands of others who did not receive that education. Finally, I believe these types of outings continue to build a substantial base of supporters for protection of Yosemite Wilderness and produce many future stewards who will care for our national parks for decades to come.