FRESNO, Calif. — Reservations will be required to visit Yosemite National Park when the popular California park reopens, possibly in early June, according to a draft reopening plan released this week.
Visitor capacity will be reduced by about 50% to promote social distancing in busy Yosemite Valley, Yosemite officials said while presenting their plan to Yosemite Gateway Partners affiliates.
People with overnight reservations in Yosemite won’t need a permit to enter the park — or those driving through it to the Eastern Sierra — but those wishing to visit for the day will need to apply for a day-use permit through recreation.gov, if the park’s plan is approved by the federal government.
Day-use permits will likely be given out at least 48 hours in advance of a visit.
“On any given day, I think the ability to wake up in the morning and decide to go to the park is not really an option this year,” one Yosemite official said during a Monday video call with about 150 people invited by Yosemite Gateway Partners, a partnership of groups and businesses in communities near the park.
Officials said about 3,600 vehicles a day will be allowed in Yosemite — approximately half of daily vehicles in the park last June.
Park officials estimate about 1,200 of those will go to Yosemite Valley (half of approximately 2,000 Yosemite Valley parking spaces and 400 spots along roads) and another 500 will go elsewhere in the park.
That’s in addition to about 1,900 overnight vehicle spots that will be allowed.
WHEN WILL YOSEMITE REOPEN?
Yosemite has been closed to visitors since late March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Acting Yosemite Superintendent Cicely Muldoon and a handful of Yosemite officials were joined by Mariposa County Health Officer Eric Sergienko in presenting the reopening plan.
Officials said Yosemite won’t reopen to the public until Gov. Gavin Newsom moves California into its stage-three reopening phase, which would include nonessential travel.
Sergienko said he expects the state to move back and forth between stage two and stage three throughout 2020, with stage four not expected until a COVID-19 vaccine is available, something he said he expects by spring 2021 or January at the earliest.
Muldoon said once Yosemite is reopened, “our hope is that we can sustain access and not have to open and close if we do this right.”
She said she wants to welcome as many visitors back to Yosemite as can be managed safely with a “measured approach.” Muldoon became interim superintendent after Michael Reynolds was reassigned last fall to a regional director position in the Southwest.
Yosemite officials aren’t doing media interviews at this time about the plan, but shared this information and more during this week’s public conference call with community members.
“We’re trying to plan as if we can open in early June,” Muldoon said, “but that is just a planning date, and really we’re going to move with the state. So when the state says stage three, we’re going to be ready to go.”
Some other national parks in California have already reopened.
Yosemite — which had more than 4.5 million visitors last year and is one of the country’s most-visited national parks — is taking things slower because of social distancing concerns. Site plans were drafted to manage visitor traffic at the park’s most popular destinations, primarily in Yosemite Valley.
Key areas of concern for officials: Tunnel View, Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite Lodge area, Lower Yosemite Fall, Yosemite Village, Curry Village, Glacier Point, Wawona, Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and park entrance stations. People will be encouraged to pay for their entrance online, but there will be staff at the entrance kiosks if someone needs to pay there.
Some trails will be converted to one-way only traffic. Individual sites may need to be closed if they become too crowded and visitors aren’t maintaining enough social distance. Signs will be posted about guidelines. Enforcement actions will be focused on those impeding the safety of others.
Sergienko said his department is working to increase COVID-19 tests available at the medical clinic in Yosemite Valley and in Mariposa, along with the testing of Yosemite employees.
AVAILABLE SERVICES, LODGING, CAMPING
When Yosemite reopens, The Ahwahnee hotel and Yosemite Valley Lodge are expected to open at full capacity, along with half of the accommodations at Curry Village, park officials said.
The Park Service previously announced the park’s historic Wawona Hotel will stay closed into 2021.
There will be modified food operations at restaurants to promote social distancing, and retail outlets, grocery stores, The Ansel Adams Gallery, bicycle and raft rentals, and pay-at-the-pump gas stations will also be open, park officials said.
All public restrooms in Yosemite Valley will be open and cleaned twice a day, Muldoon said, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lower Pines Campground (60 sites) and North Pines Campground (81 sites) will be open, along with backpackers campgrounds. Hodgdon, Crane Flat and Bridalveil campgrounds may also open at a later date. New campground reservations have not opened recently because of the uncertainty related to COVID-19.
The park’s concessionaire, Yosemite Hospitality, a subsidiary of Aramark, has canceled lodging and tour reservations in Yosemite through May 28. Aramark wasn’t part of Monday’s presentation. An Aramark spokesperson on Wednesday declined to share more details with The Fresno Bee, saying those will be released by the Park Service once finalized.
An internal memo written by union leaders representing Aramark workers in Yosemite, outlining discussions with the company about reopening plans, offered more details and was shared earlier this month by employees.
BUS AND SHUTTLE UPDATE
Park officials said Yosemite Valley shuttle buses won’t run this season because of social distancing concerns and past crowding.
Earlier this month, about 90 laid-off Yosemite transportation workers employed by Aramark were told to leave the park by May 21. The eviction decision was met by a change.org petition signed by nearly 12,000 people, and a letter from Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., to park officials asking that the workers be allowed to stay in Yosemite.
On Wednesday, an Aramark spokesperson said the company is continuing to work with affected employees on a “person-by-person basis” to ensure everyone finds housing outside the park, and that no one will be forced to leave if they don’t have a place to go.
Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System buses will still be allowed in the park. YARTS may increase its Yosemite Valley stops — although park officials said they don’t intend for it to be a replacement for former in-park shuttles.
Small buses and shuttles from area hotels will also be allowed.
MORE YOSEMITE NEWS
Les Marsden, president of Yosemite Gateway Partners, said changes planned in Yosemite this summer may actually help nearby towns in some ways, since more Yosemite visitors will likely have to find lodging and food outside the park.
Glacier Point Road will be open when the park reopens. Tioga Road over the Sierra Nevada will also reopen this year.
Cables will be up on Half Dome by June 5. Hiking permits to summit the famous dome were canceled through June 4. Park officials said permits previously acquired for later dates will be honored, but they don’t have plans at this time to open the lottery system to issue more permits.
Among those who don’t need a day-use reservation to enter the park: Visitors with campground reservations or wilderness permits for backpacking, visitors staying in vacation rentals inside the national park boundary (such as the community of Yosemite West) and people visiting Yosemite employees.
Those with annual or lifetime park passes will still have to get a day-use reservation to enter the park. Day-use reservations will not be transferable to prevent people trying to sell them online.
Yosemite weddings will still be allowed, but the wedding party size may be limited.