Discover / Bridges of Yosemite Valley
Save a National Treasure
REGION: West
LOCATION:
Yosemite National Park, CA
TYPE: Landscape
Stoneman Bridge | Photo by Lee Rentz
Stoneman Bridge | Photo by Lee Rentz
Opportunity
Protect a collection of historic bridges that span the Merced River in one of America’s most treasured landscapes.

Overview

The National Park Service is preparing a comprehensive management plan for the Merced River, which flows through the heart of Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately, three historic Rustic Style bridges built in 1928 and 1932 are being considered for removal and face an uncertain future.

National Significance

In 1864, Yosemite became the nation’s first park devoted to the protection of natural scenery. Today, nearly four million visitors a year journey to its spectacular centerpiece, the seven-mile-long Yosemite Valley, framed by the world-famous Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. A Merced River Management Plan should protect the river while preserving its iconic and historic bridges.

Campaign Goals

  • Work with the National Park Service to protect the historic bridges over the Merced River.
  • Use the bridges of Yosemite Valley to raise awareness about threats facing historic structures, both in parks and along hundreds of waterways classified as Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Ways To Help

Donate to our campaign to save the bridges of Yosemite Valley.

Tell us why the bridges of Yosemite Valley matter to you.

Posted on February 28, 2014

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

After years of drafts, delays, litigation and consultations, the National Park Service (NPS) released on February 14 the final plan for managing the federally-designed ‘wild and scenic’ Merced River, as required by law. It’s a definite mixed bag.

The good news is that the plan does not call for the removal of any of the Yosemite’s historic stone bridges—which has been the focus of our advocacy on Yosemite National Park. This does not completely ensure the long-term survival of the bridges, but comes very close. Various long-term bridge management strategies will continue to be assessed, but any future proposal to remove bridges would require a new environmental review process.

This is quite a triumph considering that the majority of the Park Service’s previous drafts called for the removal of at least one of these iconic bridges. It appears that our arguments that the NPS lacked sufficient scientific data to support bridge removal were persuasive. We are thrilled that our voices in support of these remarkable historic specimens were heard.

The bad news is that dozens of historic resources will still be lost over the twenty-year life of the plan. These include tent and hard-sided cabins, a historic apple orchard, the concessionaire headquarters and garage, and, most troubling of all, the Superintendent’s House, also known as “Residence 1.”

These potential losses are disheartening, especially as they are easily avoidable. Fortunately, the fate of the structures proposed for demolition is not sealed; there is every reason to hope that through project-specific review, better outcomes can be developed for these historic resources.

Failing that, we always have one of our most consistent preservation strategies to fall back on: a lack of funding may mean that implementation drags on for decades to come. Sometimes it pays to take the long view.

In the meantime, San Franscisco-based Field Director Anthony Veerkamp and Attorney Amy Cole from the Denver office will continue communicating with Yosemite’s NPS staff on the plan’s details and its implications for the preservation of Yosemite’s irreplaceable historic resources.

As National Trust president Stephanie Meeks said in her statement immediately following the plan’s release, we are resolute that “[t]he management of the Merced River need not come at the expense of iconic historic sites such as the Superintendent’s House. We remain committed to working with the National Park Service on identifying alternatives that would avoid or minimize harm to the specific places now threatened by the plan.”

So, despite our breakthrough in preserving Yosemite’s stone bridges, our work is not yet over. Be sure to check back for additional updates on our efforts to preserve Yosemite’s unique heritage. Please consider donating today to support the Trust's important work at this National Treasure.

Stoneman Bridge, Yosemite National Park
Posted on May 10, 2013

AV YOSE AvatarWritten by Anthony Veerkamp, Project Manager

All I can say is “Wow!” Oh--and “thank you!”

Last month, I asked you to speak out for history by contacting the National Park Service and telling them that they must do a better job preserving and enhancing Yosemite National Park’s rich historical legacy.

You responded heroically. On April 30th, I had the great pleasure of delivering over 4,100 letters to staff and Yosemite National Park, asking the Park to amend the Merced River Plan to better protect historic resources.  Gone are the days when bulging canvas mail bags of public comment letters were delivered with a ceremonious thump on marble steps, but your comments were no less weighty for being delivered virtually.

So who did we hear from? We had responses from all 50 states, plus the District of Colombia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We expected to hear from a lot of Californians, (and we did—664 of you, to be exact.) But we also heard from 182 residents of New York City alone—clearly it’s time to toss aside the notion that New Yorkers can’t be bothered with anything west of the Hudson River.

Residence 1 in Yosemite NPAnd while National Parks may indeed be “America’s best idea”, the appeal of Yosemite extends well beyond our borders. We heard from our neighbors in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario, but also from Italy, France, Scotland, England, Sweden, Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Yosemite is a National Treasure, yes, but it is also a world treasure, and the whole world is counting on us to assure its careful stewardship. 

Many of you told of your families’ deep connections to Yosemite (including one whose first documented family visit to Yosemite Valley was in 1890!) But for each person who told annual summer camping holidays, there was someone else who dreams of visiting one day (“we haven’t been there yet, but when we finally make it, we want to see historic resources like the bridges”).  We learned that Yosemite has hosted honeymoons, anniversaries and family vacations too numerous to count. 

And what did this diverse group of over four thousand have to say? All of you joined to support the National Trust’s message that the NPS needs to amend the Merced River plan so that it preserves and protects Yosemite’s history. But many of you added your own personal stories, stories that have moved and reenergized me and my colleagues at the National Trust.

Following is just a small sample of what you had to say. I’ve left these quotes without attribution, but if you want to claim your quote or add a new one, by all means add a comment to this post!

“In 4th grade, over 30 years ago I wrote a report on Yosemite about ways to protect this "magical" place to ensure that generations to come will be able to learn about and enjoy this historic treasure. I still to this day hold Yosemite close to my heart and even after having traveled to many countries and places, Yosemite is still my favorite place on earth. The history that is rooted in the buildings and bridges is part of that magic. Please don't allow this harmful and irreversible demolition to take place.”

“As an avid camper (for over 55 years) I've been privileged to visit Yosemite several times. Each time I've appreciated it more, but one thing I especially liked was the number of "original" buildings and structures. I'm sure that time and wear have taken their toll, but unless efforts are taken to preserve and protect them the nation will lose another piece of its history."

“Isn't your job the conservation and preservation of our national landscapes? Aren't we to look to you as leaders of preserving such incredible, historic and natural places like Yosemite? I am disappointed I have to write this letter. Demolition of historic structures is not only a waste of material, energy and cost that has been put into these structures, but a significant waste of our cultural resources that CAN NEVER BE REPLACED.”

“I am particularly concerned that this plan reflects a pattern of NPS giving inadequate attention to the cultural resources it stewards. There is almost always a win‐win solution for cultural and natural resources alike, but only if thought is given to both.”

“We stand ready to help you find ways to avoid the unthinkable and help you DO NO HARM while you are challenged with the stewardship of OUR resources. Just ask and we can offer you many feasible ways to overcome all of the deferred maintenance that has plagued your park's facilities since I was there in 1970.”

“Historic properties are as much a part of the magic of Yosemite as its natural wonders.”

“I almost never respond to requests for mass mailings of form letters to persuade. In this instance my memory of a most wonderful family vacation to Yosemite has changed my mind. I have traveled to many wonderful locations, but only Yosemite left me feeling as if I have visited Paradise. I don't know the details of the expense of considering less destructive alternatives, but I do hope you will consider that suggested by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I am not a tree‐hugger or a preservation nut; but once removed, a national treasure cannot be restored.”

“I am persuaded by the National Trust that there are better ways than those now in play to make sure that historic man‐made resources remain in the Yosemite Valley improvements. During the 1960s I lived in California and went to Yosemite for respite as often as I could. Even then, the older camp structures informed our feelings. It was magical, all of it.”

“I have been a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for nearly 40 years, and in all that time few things have appalled me as much as those parts of the proposed Merced River Plan that threaten historic properties in Yosemite National Park.”

“It's important to retain as much of the historic character of the Park as possible, including Merced River bridges, and the first Superintendent's House. These places in one of the foundational parks in the NPS system illuminate our nation's, as well as NPS's history.”

“My entire family of four strongly supports the NTHP proposed amendment to the NPS plan for Yosemite. As born and raised Californians who have taken our now grown children to Yosemite over the years and respect the heritage of our unique state, we are appalled by this threat to such a historic and revered site. The proposed demolition is a travesty. This is taking the return of Yosemite Valley to its original pristine state too far. We concur with the National Trust's proposed changes.”

“I will be 91 this summer but I remember the first time that my wife and I took our two children in our travel trailer on a western trip, and how they "oh’ed" and"ah’ed" at the great beauty and the historic buildings. I happen to have a Ph.D. in history, so I may have told them more about the buildings like the first Superintendent's House which was open to for public use in those days.”

“To destroy historic treasures as "the easy way out" seems to me to be counterproductive to what the park stands for and what the public would like to see preserved as part of history.”

“"Demolition is forever." Not only is restoration and relocation often more economical than destruction and new construction, but is most often kinder to the environment. It sounds as though there are many different approaches that can be done to accomplish the river restoration. I am sure that the creative minds at NPS will come up with a plan that serves most goals.”

“There are many visitors like myself who appreciate the historical elements of this wonderful park as much or more than the pure outdoor experience one can have. To lose this element would greatly diminish the total experience one can gain from this park.”

“The National Park Service should be leading the way for historic preservation in the United States. As the agency that sets the tone for how historic resources should be preserved, it’s imperative that they lead by example. Preservation of the nation's history and culture should be as much a part of their mission as the preservation of its natural resources.”

“As a Certified Floodplain Manager, I feel that mitigation and enhancement of the river can be accomplished without removal of historic structures. FEMA's own guidelines encourage retention of historic structures; this plan clearly goes too far. The park belongs to the nation and its citizens. The best way to protect Yosemite is to allow us to visit and fall in love.”

“Yosemite, to me, is the most incredibly beautiful national park. The natural beauty is perfect and the man-made buildings and bridges with their rustic design and natural materials only add to the beauty of the park…Please do not destroy them.”

“The Park Service is the custodian of one of our nation's greatest design legacy's - the rich, diverse and unique structures that are an integral part of each visitor's experience...I challenge you to honor the Park Service's rich history of design stewardship and find the means to save these historic structures for today's visitors and future generations.”

“As an American citizen, but originally a Scot from Dunbar, I hope to follow in the footsteps of John Muir and see why he thought Yosemite was so special. Please keep it so.”

“The National Park Service, as the federal government's lead agency in the fight to keep our significant historic properties, should not be caving in to other interests, especially when it's the Park Service own history that you are throwing away.”

And finally, my personal favorite:

“I choose not to be verbose. How about: “REALLY?” Thank you for considering my views in amending the Merced Wild and Scenic River draft plan to better protect the historic resources that help make the Yosemite Valley so special.”

My colleague Amy Cole and I will resume meeting with Yosemite National Park staff next week, working hard to achieve a better plan that protects the history you care so deeply about. We return to those meetings with renewed confidence and determination, thanks in large measure to your support.

Please check back for additional updates on the bridges of Yosemite Valley and our efforts to preserve Yosemite’s unique heritage. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

Posted on April 19, 2013

As part of one of our nation’s largest collections of Rustic Style architecture, the Bridges of Yosemite Valley  are among the most iconic historic features in one of the most treasured and visited parks in the world.  Framing the wild and scenic Merced River, these arched stone bridges are a must-see tourist attraction. For more information, visit http://www.yosemiteandbeyond.com/

Posted on April 11, 2013

a veerkamp half domeWritten by Anthony Veerkamp, Project Manager

Many of us have a big red circle on our calendars around Tax Day, April 15th, but you might add another one around April 18th: that’s the last date to comment on the draft Merced River Plan. While it’s true that sending a letter off to the National Park Service won’t result in a refund check, you do get the peace of mind of knowing that you’ve done your part to assure the protection of over one hundred historic structures in Yosemite National Park. (What’s more, as you’ll see below, it’s a pretty light lift.)

Sugar Pine Yosemite HABS/HAERSince the draft Merced River Plan (MRP) was released in January, my colleague Amy Cole and I have been poring over its thousands of pages and dozens of appendices and supporting scientific reports. While nobody cracks open an environmental review document expecting a rollicking good read, the MRP disappoints even the modest expectations of anyone who cares about historic places.

At first blush the plan seems hunky dory, and why shouldn’t it? We're talking about a plan by the National Park Service here. You don't go looking for proposals to tear down the Ahwahnee Hotel to make room for a granite quarry from the agency whose fundamental purpose is to protect our heritage. (Just to be clear, the NPS does NOT propose these actions.)

While there's nothing quite so gruesome here, by the time Amy and I reached the end of the plan we were feeling a bit bruised and battered. So what’s wrong with the plan? Plenty. We have focused our Yosemite advocacy efforts on the threats to the iconic Rustic style bridges spanning the Merced River. Despite our hard work, Sugar Pine Bridge is still proposed for "removal" (translation: demolition.) Fortunately, Stoneman Bridge and Ahwahnee Bridge would not be demolished in the proposed plan, but they are still at risk in other alternatives under consideration.

Please understand that these historic bridges are not structurally unsafe or too narrow to accommodate traffic (Sugar Pine  and Ahwahnee Bridges have in fact been pedestrian only for some time), nor do they leak toxic gunk into the pristine waters of the Merced. The only reason these bridges are at risk is because they are said to interfere with the natural processes of the Merced River. Keep in mind that the bridges have been "interfering" for over eighty years now, and were already listed on the National Register at the time Congress designated the Merced River as a “Wild and Scenic” river.

Sugar Pine Bridge may be the most iconic historic structure at risk, but the MRP affects historic resources from the High Sierra to Wawona and El Portal. For example, the plan proposes the wholesale removal of “Boystown” (sorry girls—that’s the historic name) located at Curry Village. 15 cabins and 72 tent cabins built in 1930 would be removed in that single action. This comes on top of many other cabins that have already been demolished rather than moved due to the risk of rockfall.

Over at Yosemite Village, the late 1930’s Concessioner Headquarters Building and the 1920 Curry Garage would be removed to make way for parking. Outside of the valley, the Lake Merced High Sierra Camp would lose half of its 22 tent cabins, with future plans to replace the white fabric with something deemed less visually offensive. (What? Beige?) And it’s not just buildings and structures. Also on the hit list is Curry Orchard, the historic apple orchard at Curry Village that is the only remaining evidence of early agricultural activity in the valley.

Yosemite Boystown Tent CabinsThis is a partial list—in all, over 100 historic structures would be lost, a count that does not include structures that have not yet been evaluated for historic significance, such as eight nearly century-old cottages at Yosemite Lodge.

Fortunately, the plan is still in draft, and the NPS has invited the public to weigh in before the Merced River Plan is finalized, but the time to act is now. Please take a moment to write to Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher and tell him that you oppose proposals to demolish historic structures, and instead support a balanced plan that ensures that Americans have the opportunity to experience Yosemite’s unique natural beauty and rich historical legacy. We have crafted a sample message to NPS that we encourage you to customize.

Please check back for additional updates on the bridges of Yosemite Valley and our efforts to preserve Yosemite’s unique heritage. Also, donate today to support the National Trust's ongoing work at this National Treasure.

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G.L. White on January 18, 2014
On a recent trip to Scotland, I marveled at the beauty of their rivers and stone bridges. The entire country is beautifully preserved but there is something so lovely and graceful about their stone bridges. If we have even one such historic bridge, it should be saved. Yosemite's bridges take me back to my childhood where we spent many an early springtime in the park before the crowds arrived. I remember playing around some of these bridges; a sword fight with tree branches; a traveler sauntering along with my little bag of necessities tied to the end of a branch, stopping on a bridge and watching the river, wondering where my travels would take me next. My travels may take me farther away now but without bridges it would be a difficult journey and without the memory of such beautiful places I would be lost.
Edi Montijo Chapman on September 13, 2013
Unlike the spectacular Fire Falls, which were a nightly feature and which ended after the Inspiration Point Lodge burned down, these stone bridges are lasting architectural statement. They are a traffic flow feature (pedestrian, if necessary) that demonstrate the early commitment of the Park Service to build what was needed with reverence for the natural beauty of Yosemite Valley. They are also a testament to the many skilled laborers whose talents in the Depression era made such park features available to visitors. Recent fire devastation makes saving historic structures in Yosemite Valley more important than ever.
Jean-Pierre Got on April 08, 2013
A poster artist, I would be happy to offer my creating a campaign poster if this might help spread the word and protect the unique site of Yosemite Valley and its historic bridges.
Lori Gibson on April 08, 2013
Does the NTFHP not have any power in Washington or California ? If Lincoln preserved the Park & its historic structures by law, how can that be violated now ? Historic structures are supposed to be protected by law , so no matter who wants to tear them down later, it can't be done ? ? When I heard about these sweeping harmful proposals, I knew where they came from : radical Barack Obama .. Tearing out pools, stables, ice rink raft & bike rentals is ridiculous & unnecessary as well as the very important historic structures! Honestly, there is no $ during such bad economic times for the federal Government to irresponsibly attempt these projects anyway , when cancer patients are being turned away & criminals released from jail due to supposed lack of $ ? I care very deeply about Yosemite & all our National Parks ! This President has taken away $ to maintain Yellowstone as well .. But he's exempted himself from stopping all his monthly million $ vacations & golf tours so these parks can be preserved ! WE must not allow him to destroy our HISTORY!
James Ayers on October 26, 2012
these bridges are part of the historical story of Yosemite Valley. I have spent many hours on these bridges, waiting for sunset to capture the unique angles allowed by these bridges. One could as soon demolish the historical hotels and Ansel Adams Gallery, they are part of the memory of the Valley.
Ray Foote on October 25, 2012
As an avid photographer and frequent visitor to National Parks (including Yosemite), I try to take in the whole range of treasures in those places: the natural beauty, wildlife, historic structures, the way people are interacting with it all. A couple of years ago, I spent an awesome afternoon on the banks of the Merced soaking up all this. To lose the historic bridges (or to see them modernized beyond recognition) would be to rip out one facet of what makes Yosemite special. That place is iconic for any number of reasons, including the way it has been lovingly "presented" to generations of awe-struck visitors. The bridges and other historic elements in the park are integral to that experience. Keep up the good fight, National Trust!
Anthony Veerkamp on June 06, 2012
Yosemite Valley is one of the world's most iconic and visited landscapes — an "incomparable valley." Early park planners showed remarkable restraint in designing infrastructure that quietly echoes the sublime surroundings. Nowhere is this dialogue more eloquent than in the Rustic Style bridges spanning the Merced River. Today's planners should resist wielding a heavy hand and avoid actions that would endanger these extraordinary bridges.

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