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Muir Woods Parking: "We Don’t Need 10-Year-Old Warmed-Over Proposals"

Letter to the editor from Paul Jeschke of Muir Beach, on the National Parks Service Muir Woods parking lot proposal.

Letter to the editor from Paul Jeschke of Muir Beach

Discussion of a plan to create a Muir Woods Parking Reservation and Shuttle System is premature and fundamentally flawed because NPS has failed to do necessary and proper research to create a rational basis to discuss and analyze the plan, let alone proceed to implementation. Without recent, independent, thorough, verifiable, scientific studies, NPS is engaging in guesswork and hazy generalizations on visitor impact to the precious resource it is charged with protecting.

In this visitor access and transportation proposal, the National Park Service and Golden Gate National Recreation Area have failed to recognize and comply with their most basic mandate. The NPS Organic Act of 1916, the guidelines of which still apply today, states that the mission of the National Park Service is “...to promote and regulate the use of the...national parks...which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the generations.”

How can NPS comply with the Organic Act requirements if it has no current data on the “carrying capacity” of Muir Woods National Monument? Visitor impact is not a new or unexpected issue. When the Park Service noted that that a study was underway in 2005 on the impacts of a shuttle service like the one being discussed here, the Sierra Club Yodeler (July/Aug 2005) noted, “Unfortunately, such studies in the past have focused only on improving visitor experience and ignored other important concerns such as protection of the monument's natural resources, impacts on park facilities, or pressures on park neighbors.”

Nor is there much question or confusion on the long-time need for a study on visitor impact. The proposed 4,000 visitors a day create a huge potential to trample tender vegetation, erode soil, pollute air and water and disturb wildlife within its 554 acre boundaries. “The small size and national and international stature (of Muir Woods National Monument) have doomed the forest to hosting numbers of visitors that exceed per hectare any other natural unit in the park system,” wrote land use expert Dr. Lary Dilsaver. (Preservation Choices at Muir Woods, Geological Review. Vol. 84, No 3). “Extensive monitoring of natural resources and observations of visitor experiences must establish the capacity of each park area. Then the NPS can implement controls, including removal of infrastructure, access limitations, or rationing. Alternatively, it can surrender some purposes of the unit, with resultant decreases in biological protection and visitor experiences.”

The reservation and shuttle system called for in this proposal is meaningless and impossible to pass judgment on without the hard information on carrying capacity called for by Dr. Dilsaver. There is simply no way to monitor the impact of these visitors. Should the reservation system accommodate 4,000 visitors a day or the 6,000 who jammed in shoulder-to-shoulder last July 5? Close to one million visitors throng the park every year. While there have been admirable attempts to route these park guests along elevated boardwalks and corral them to fenced off areas, there are countless unprotected trails where any layman can spot damage and erosion.

And as other experts have pointed out, it’s far from clear that Muir Woods management is providing the visitor “enjoyment” that is part of its Organic Act Mandate -- the “social aspect” referred to by Dr. Robert Manning, Chair, Recreation Management Program, School of Natural Resources, University of Vermont. “The working hypothesis was that increased visitor use causes greater environmental impact as measured by soil compaction, destruction of vegetation, and related variables. It soon became apparent, however, that there was another dimension of carrying capacity dealing with social aspects of the visitor experience. An early and important report on the application of carrying capacity to outdoor recreation, for example, reported that the study "... was initiated with the view that the carrying capacity of recreation lands could be determined primarily in terms of ecology and the deterioration of areas. However, it soon became obvious that the resource-oriented point of view must be augmented by consideration of human values."(Manning, Robert E., Parks and Recreation, Oct. ’97) Manning has created a scientific method of measuring the visitor experience. His study, now out of date, should be renewed so NPS has an objective way to measure visitor experience.

The staff at Muir Woods confirms the lack of information on impacts of foot traffic and auto emissions. “I am unfamiliar with specific studies of these topics at Muir Woods,” wrote Senior Planner Brian Aviles in an email dated 10-31-13. Mia Monroe, Site Supervisor at Muir Woods, wrote of visitor studies at Muir Woods, “most of have been impacts on the visitor experience as actual resource impacts are very hard to conduct … am not aware of any studies on emissions though and most of the auto impacts have focused on the reduction to riparian corridor from shoulder parking.”

The need for clear, accurate, verifiable information on the visitor carrying capacity at Muir Woods and its consequences to the environmental resource and to visitors themselves is readily apparent.

We don’t need 10-year-old warmed-over proposals about parking and reservations; we must have hard, scientific data.
Diane Curtis November 04, 2013 at 01:13 PM
What thorough research and cogent arguments. Thanks for this. I hope the NPS is listening.
Bob Silvestri November 04, 2013 at 09:57 PM
Well stated and science based. This adds another important argument against the NPS/GGNRA's ludicrous plan. For more, please see: Paving Paradise: Parts II and III http://millvalley.patch.com/groups/bob-silvestris-blog/p/paving-paradise-part-ii-follow-the-money http://millvalley.patch.com/groups/bob-silvestris-blog/p/paving-paradise-part-iii-follow-the-politics
Clayton Smith November 05, 2013 at 03:50 PM
It is most telling that during the Park Services recent rollout of their proposal to build a 180 car parking lot on the Dias Ridge, they referred more than once to their visitor satisfaction surrey as the basis for their decision to attempt to limit the daily visitation to the Park to 4,000 people. They had the resources to do this study, so why not at the same time do the carrying capacity study? This "cart before the horse" approach to the overall issue of park visitation seems to me to be purposeful. Asking them to do the carrying capacity study first would have bound them. It would have invited public comment, which would have expanded the question beyond the Park proper to the additional question as to the carrying capacity of the adjoining and impacted communities and what mitigations would be appropriate in light of that information. Careers are on the line. I believe that asking such questions would be counter productive to person advancement in the bureaucracy and are therefore to be avoided. It is just more of the same we get everywhere else in the sprawling Administrative State the Old Republic has morphed into. So, let me add another question to the long list of those that now go begging on this issue, why is this being run out of an office in Denver, CO? Why can't this be studied and decided upon here locally, between the directly effected parties in the Bay Area? Also, why has the next meeting date in February been set after the public comment period has closed? Why, why, why!!!
Steve McCool November 06, 2013 at 07:20 PM
Well, unfortunately trying to identify a "carrying capacity" which is a fundamentally flawed concept, will not help. Not that the concerns expressed here are irrelevant or invalid. Indeed, they need to be addressed; park management is about making tradeoffs and understanding what is acceptable. Clearly, there is apparently concern that impacts will be unacceptable, both biophysically and socially. With any amount of use, impacts will occur, so engaging the public along side of necessary scientific studies that would outline relationships among visitor use levels, types of use and behavior and impacts would be helpful information. With that in hand, a joint exploration of the consequences of alternative actions could be conducted.

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