Yosemite Gets Back to Nature With Extreme Makeover

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In addition, some conservation groups worried the project was a sign of increasing development in the park.

Now that the falls project is nearing completion, some early critics have become supporters, Park Superintendent Mike Tollefson said. And, he said, park visitors love the redesign. "Whenever I'm out walking the trail in uniform, people come up to me [to compliment the overhaul. The visitors are incredibly excited about it."

Environmentally Sensitive Design

Lawrence Halprin, the landscape architect with the project, is known for bringing environmental sensitivity to his designs. In the 1960s he designed the Sea Ranch, a housing and resort development on the northern California coast known for its minimal visual and physical impact on its surroundings.

The Yosemite Falls project used a combination of low-impact materials and careful construction to reduce environmental impact. Stones from a highway wall that was destroyed by the 1997 flood were even used to pave some of the updated paths.

Asphalt was used for much of the new trails. But a newly developed asphalt alternative, which doesn't use petroleum, also makes up some sections of the pathways.

In addition, strategic placement of boulders and downed trees encourages walkers to avoid sensitive areas.

Throughout the process, monitors from several Native American tribes participated in the work. They helped to ensure that the rebuilding did not damage any sites of cultural significance, Hansen said.

According to the Yosemite Fund, approximately 14,000 people, in California and elsewhere in the United States, contributed to the rehabilitation effort. Donations came in from Yosemite lovers from all walks of life, including students at Schallenberger Elementary School in San Jose, California, who contributed a portion of their annual penny drive to the project.

Hansen said the impressive level of support shows how important the park is to the United States.

Park Director Tollefson said the project is the most exciting thing he's been involved with in his park service tenure. And that's saying something: Tollefson has also held the top job at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the southeastern U.S. and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California.

He hopes the projects' greatest success will be its subtlety. While the pathways and stopping places may provide a better walking experience for visitors, he doesn't want the new amenities to outshine the beauty of the park itself.

"We don't want the falls trail to be the reason people go to the falls," Tollefson said.

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