We had to abandon our long planned trans-Sierra today and I am very disappointed. Yet it would have been foolish (if not deadly) to pursue it. Major storms were forecast for the entire week and the avalanche danger rating was extreme. Unfortunately, my companions do not have the flexibility of making the trip at another time this season. Next year!
We’re on our way to the annual Association of Partners for Public Lands convention in Little Rock, Arkansas. I am looking forward to visiting the Clinton Library and relaxing in the tubs at Hot Springs National Park. Our airplane ride from Fresno provided some wonderful aerial views of Kings Canyon.
Our association hosted its first annual Yosemite Botanical Symposium this weekend, with Dr. Peter Raven as our keynote speaker. Dr. Raven, who was named by Time Magazine in 1999 as one of the “Heroes for the Planet,” currently serves as the director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and as the Engelmann Professor of Botany at Washington University.
His presentation on “Sustainability and Our Common Future” proved to be both educational and inspirational (and funny—who says scientist’s don’t possess a sense of humor!). Dr. Alison Colwell’s program on “Managing Yosemite’s Rare Plants” and Dr. Jan van Wagtendonk’s session on “Some History of Fire Ecology and Management in Yosemite” were also highlights. All and all, I felt oddly invigorated by the enthusiasm the presenters possessed for vegetation, and even though terms like eukaryote and heterophyllous were being used frequently, I did not find myself too lost in botanical ignorance.
Each October, the Yosemite Association holds a fall barbeque on the Ahwahnee Meadow, generously hosted by Delaware North Parks and Resort at Yosemite. The alpen glow on Half Dome provided the perfect backdrop for a fantastic evening.
At this event, we get a chance to thank our supporters for their generosity for the year. We highlighted our Student Intern program, on which our fundraising efforts have been focused for the past two years. The program, in cooperation with the newly opened University of California in Merced, gives diverse students a chance to work in the park for the summer and explore careers with the National Park Service. This year, the attendees got the chance to meet two of student interns supported by their donations: Carla Saldana and Dalinna Cha. Carla is from Atwater, speaks Spanish and English and understands Japanese, and she’ll be transferring to U.C. Merced in the fall of 2006 to major in psychology. Dalinna Cha is also from Atwater and she inherited her love of the high country from her parents, who lived in the mountains of Laos. Her campground program for the season was “Big Cats in Yosemite.” The Yosemite Association is very proud of being able to provide these opportunities for students. We still need more funds to keep the program running, so please donate if you can!
This year we celebrated our thirtieth members’ meeting and our President, Steve Medley’s, twentieth anniversary. We always hope for warm, sunny weather and Mother Nature granted at least half of our wish. Although the sun shone, a frigid wind developed that chilled most of us to the bone. In protest, I refused to change out of my shorts, but I certainly suffered for my stubbornness. Our keynote speaker, John Simpson discussed his new book Dam!: Water, Power, Politics and Preservation in Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite National Park, and another presenter, Garrett Burke, told of how he developed the design for the new California State Quarter.
For those of us who stayed the night in Tuolumne, we were treated to an icicle display the next morning. Since the temperature had dropped to an unseasonably cold 17F overnight, the water from the sprinkler system had frozen on the courtyard outside Tuolumne Lodge.
Laurel Rematore (YA’s membership director), and I are members of the Association of Partners for Public Lands Training Corps. We provide training for land agency partners across the country in a variety of areas, including strategic planning, financial management, membership, and fundraising. As members of the corps, we delight in helping non-profits become successful in supporting public lands. This past weekend, we conducted a training workshop (along with our colleague Claudia Schechter, former CFO and VP for operations for the National Park Foundation) for two new organizations: Piedras Blancas Lighthouse Foundation and The Friends of Carrizo Plain. The energy and dedication exhibited by the participants made our job very easy, and we know these two groups will go on to do great work.
Part of the fun in training is seeing the public lands the groups will be supporting. The training was held at the Piedras Blancas Light Station, near San Simeon. We received a wonderful tour of the lighthouse, observed sea lions and elephant seals, and met a volunteer who spends much of her time trying to clear the site of the ubiquitous non-native ice plant. My favorite fun-fact of the weekend derived from the rocks that bear the Piedras Blancas name. Their whiteness comes from thousands of years of accumulation of bird guano!
Additionally, Penny Harris, a member of the Piedras Blancas board and docent at Hearst Castle, arranged a tour of the castle for us. Hearst’s grand and eccentric vision made for quite an experience. The site never once failed to impress, from the Greek Nymph pool, to the 16th century Spanish cathedral ceilings, to the 2,500 year-old Egyptian statue.
We just received word in the office that our friend Jane Gyer died yesterday. In her lifetime, Jane had produced an impressive legacy of Yosemite art and had collaborated with the Yosemite Association on many projects, such as Discovering Sierra Trees and A Trip to the Yosemite. I met Jane for the first time at last year’s spring forum and enjoyed hearing her discuss her passion for Yosemite and her art. I regret that I did not get to enjoy more of her company.
Tioga and Glacier Point Roads opened today!
Our association held a strategic planning session this past weekend at Asilomar Conference Center. Our board of directors and staff, along with representatives from the National Park Service and Delaware North Parks and Resort Company attended this important meeting. We reviewed our five-year strategic plan developed in 1999, and outlined a series of actions to help us continue to serve our educational mission to the park. The facilitators of the session asked us to begin with a review of our accomplishments over the last five years, which our President Steve Medley outlined for us. We truly have done some great work for the park! I am proud to be a member of our association.
After a day of sitting in a conference room (albeit one on the seashore), we were treated to an interpretive walk at Point Lobos. Kimi Kodani Hill, one of our board members, brought her father Eugene Kodani, who had spent his childhood on Point Lobos. His memories of the area provided a wonderful complement to the walk; he pointed out the sites of the homesteads, and offered anecdotes about growing up near the abalone canneries.
On the last morning of our stay, I walked out to the beach at 7:00 am to observe a negative tide, when the water falls below the average water line. I felt like I had access to a hidden world, as areas that were usually hidden under water now lay exposed. Starfish and jellyfish lingered in the tide pools, while anxious birds dashed among the “new” rocks looking for treats.
The First Annual Yosemite Birding Festival was a success! This past weekend over one hundred dedicated birders roamed Yosemite in search of life list sightings and were guided by an ornithologist’s dream team of Keith Hansen, Ted Beedy, David Lukas, David DeSante, and many others. Keith Hansen obtained remarkable video footage of two great horned owls nesting in Yosemite Valley, while Ted Beedy led field trips to Foresta and Crane Flat, and spotted the Vaux's swift and pileated woodpecker. The colorful western tanager and northern oriole also made an appearance over the weekend, along with over eighty other species. The famed Steller’s jay remained elusive (just kidding!)
Mark your calendars for next year’s festival: June 19-21, 2005.
We won! I’m pleased to announce that our Association received first prizes in the APPL Partnership Awards for our Outdoor Adventure and Cooperative Work Week Programs. Two other YA projects were awarded honorable mention: the publication A Trip To Yosemite, and its 80th Anniversary Commemorative Project.
Our staff journeyed to St. Louis for the annual convention hosted by the Association of Partners for Public Lands, a consortium of non-profits that support public land agencies in the United States. The annual convention provided valuable training and networking opportunities, as well as recognition through the awards program. Held at a different location every year, the conference also gives participants an opportunity to see the diverse resources our public lands offer. This year we explored the theme of westward expansion so magnificently captured in the Arch.
The Arch is truly something to behold, and I was prepared to not be impressed. At a mere 630 feet, its reach pales in comparison to the granite cliffs of Yosemite. However, one cannot be immune to the simple beauty of the structure and its perfect symbolism of the westward exploration. As I lay on the grass under the monument and gazed directly upward, the arc of the curve reached into the sky. I thought of Lewis and Clark, and their grand vision as they stepped into the unknown wilderness of the west.
Yosemite National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson will present his Buffalo Soldier living history program today in Washington, D.C. in celebration of Black History Month. Shelton discovered an anonymous photograph of African American soldiers in the Yosemite Research library and from that discovery he created a fascinating interpretive program that details their history. When you visit the park, check Yosemite Today for the program of interpretive schedules and be sure to catch his Buffalo Soldiers program.
The Cascade Dam has been dismantled and a group of onlookers witnessed the river flowing free for the first time since 1916. For two months construction crews have been working to demolish the dam, using rubber rafts and sandbags to divert the river until the project was finished. When I drove by the site, I was always amazed at their progress. Construction or in this case deconstruction, is made very difficult when a river flows in the middle of your project!
The dam provided electricity for Yosemite Valley until the mid-1980s. The original construction costs were $200,000 as compared with the demolition price tag of almost $3 million. Next time you visit Yosemite, be sure to stop by the site (at the intersection of Highways 120 and 140) and witness the new dam-less landscape.
As a native New Englander, I think of the fall season as a prolonged sunset, trees bursting in orange, red, yellow, and brown before retiring for the winter. I have been largely unimpressed by the fall colors in California, although I will admit the aspens’ golden show on the east side of the Sierra is quite splendid (just not on par with say, miles of maple trees waving multi-colored leaves in Vermont).
This year has been an exception. Not only did the aspen leaves fluctuate from stunning shades of amber to a brassy gold, but the moderately cold, yet relatively dry fall has enabled those photosynthesizing plants to retire in style! My morning commute up the river canyon has been decorated with vibrant color. Amber-yellow grasses highlight the banks of the Merced, while even the usual dull brownness of oak leaves seem imbued with an auburn tint. All my commute needs is a covered bridge, and I would be magically transported back to the New England falls of my youth.
This is your life, Yosemite! This past week the park has been filled with hundreds of Yosemite alumni, gathered together in the first Yosemite Reunion. Butch Farabee, past park ranger, and Kim Tucker, present park employee, organized the three-day event, which drew people from all over the country. Being a relative newcomer, I gazed at nametags that also had the dates of park tenure, some stretching back over decades. The park has an incredible legacy of people.
Additionally, Butch Farabee just published a new book, National Park Ranger: An American Icon. The book explores the history of park rangers, described by Farabee as “an amalgam of Jedi Knight, Favorite Teacher, and Smokey Bear. As stewards of our nation’s treasures, they are heir to five thousand years of tradition: they celebrate this legacy with pride, reflect it with humility.”
Today we celebrated our association’s success this year with a delicious barbeque provided by Kevin Kelly, the Chief Operations Officer at Delaware North Parks and Resort at Yosemite. Any member who had donated $1,000 or more this year was eligible to attend this event, held at Kevin’s home on the Ahwahnee Meadow. I enjoyed meeting our supporters and admire their commitment to our association and to this park. During the dinner, a helicopter landed in the meadow, transporting those investigating the rock slide that had occurred earlier today. Portions of Northside Road were closed, but we had not yet heard the extent of the rockslide when I left after dinner.
Another successful members meeting! Claude Fiddler spoke about the wonders of Yosemite wilderness, and debunked all of the intellectual theories about the “true” nature of wild places with his exuberant yell of “YEEEEEEEEAAAHHH!” (his theory on the meaning of wilderness). Anne Macquarie, a contributor to Yosemite Once Removed, and a former Yosemite Back country ranger, read a poem about visiting Benson Lake as an adult, with an adult’s physical limitations (aches, pains, etc...that did not exist in youth), which resonated with all of us who experience age creeping into our physical activity.
On Sunday, I lead an energetic group up to Gaylor Lakes and the Great Sierra Mine for an interpretive hike. My father and brother, both visiting from New England, accompanied me, and both completed the hike despite their coming from sea level and not being used to high altitude walks. My dad affectionately calls the Tioga Road “The Valley of Death.” Being a born and bred New Englander, he hasn’t driven on too may mountain roads on the east coast.
My regular journal readers will note a rather lengthy absence from my reporting. I do apologize and I can even offer a good excuse. My ruptured disk decided to give me some misery, and I had to remain in bed for over a week. My activity was limited to crawling from the bedroom to the living room couch for a change of scenery. Being immobile for a week tried my patience, but at least I caught up on my movie viewing and reading. I’m happy to report that I am recovering fast and should be back on the trail soon.
Yesterday we celebrated 80 years of supporting Yosemite National Park. Such a momentous occasion called for a party, and we certainly did not fail in that regard. We assembled a great group of National Park Service staff, Yosemite Association board and employees, our members, and park visitors, who helped us celebrate our accomplishments and consume some very delicious birthday cake (chocolate with white chocolate frosting - very yummy).
Mike Tollefson, the park Superintendent, joined a list of speakers who recognized our efforts. Bob Hansen from the Yosemite Fund traveled from San Francisco to participate, Mary Gearheart, board member of the Association of Partner for Public Lands, came from Arcadia. Debbie Hurley presented us with a statement of Congressional Record from Congressman Radanovich’s office, Shelly Abajian read thanks from Senator Diane Feinstein, and Senator Barbara Boxer sent her greetings via letter.
We decided that on our birthday we would give gifts. Our association began in 1923 in order to fundraise for a museum, and had its early roots in assisting museum and research development in the park. We thought it appropriate to commemorate our anniversary by presenting some gifts to the museum and research library. Among them were a beautiful Western Mono basket made between 1940 and 1950, six rare and hard-to-find travel books for the the library, and for the museum, a Carleton Watkins mammoth photographic print and a set of 35 stereoviews made in Yosemite by T.C. Roche in 1860.
If you missed this event, please join us in Fresno on August 17th for an evening at the Fresno Metropolitan Museum. Ranger Shelton Johnson will be presenting his award-wining Buffalo Soldiers of the Sierra Nevada program.
So Happy 80th Birthday YA!
Today I interviewed our new Superintendent, Michael Tollefson, for our members’ journal. Superintendent Tollefson began working in Yosemite on January 4th, and has been very supportive of our association. He originally hails from Seattle, although he has worked in many parks across the country. He is a quiet, gracious man, who I’ve enjoyed working with during his short time in the park, and I think he will accomplish much for the good of Yosemite during his tenure here. Watch for the full interview in our upcoming issue of Yosemite.