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By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
Planners and park managers are mulling possible effects from a recent federal court decision blocking construction projects that would have boosted services for visitors at Yosemite National Park.
Some environmental groups have hailed the ruling for preserving natural resources over human uses.
Yosemite remains one of the country's most popular parks, attracting millions of visitors each year a different situation from the local Redwood National and State Parks.
"We're on the other end of it," said park interpreter Rick Nolan of visitor goals. "We're encouraging people to come."
Visitor numbers have remained stable for the past decade, neither spiking nor dropping much from an annual 400,000 count. The trend matches those of other parks in Northern California and southern Oregon.
"These parks certainly could accommodate more visitors," Nolan said.
Bordered and pocketed with privately owned land, businesses and communities, Redwood National and State Parks differs from other western parks that boast large contiguous tracts. And nearby private businesses offer lodging and restaurants.
"It does ease that pressure of developing on park land itself," Nolan said, noting other parks that host hotels, restaurants and rental homes compared to the campgrounds and youth hostel at Redwood State and National Parks.
The Yosemite court decision has focused attention on park management practices, along with the balance between preserving natural resources and hosting visitors.
"That's been the sort of crux of the legal challenge," said Kerri Cahill, a visitor use planner for the National Park Service, Denver Service Center in Denver, Colo. "It's still really unclear what exactly the implications are for Yosemite and the rest of the parks."
In plans for each national park, the agency identifies the resources that it aims to preserve and the types of experiences that it seeks for visitors. Parks monitor visitor use and can take such steps as capping the number of daily visitors at popular trails to preserve the land and keep visitors' hikes from becoming crowded treks.
But throughout California's parks, Sierra Club legislative representative Jim Metropulos sees a lack of money and planning to manage natural resources and visitors' use of them.
"That is just a chronic problem in California," Metropulos said.
Nolan agreed, noting expenses for staff, materials and road and trail maintenance projects.
"Finding planning money is difficult," Nolan said. "That's certainly true."
Redwood National and State Parks runs on an annual budget of more than $7.2 million in federal money and about $2 million in state funds.
But the park has kept its general plan up-to-date, reviewing it every 15 years and most recently revamping it in 2000.
"We're in much better shape," Nolan said of the plan that outlines goals for the four park sections that cover about 105,516 acres and span more than 50 miles.
Park plans remain especially important for parks that have not yet attracted large numbers of visitors, since they give managers a chance to outline visions for the park before needing to simply react, Cahill said.
"It's harder to roll back use once it's entrenched," she said.
The Yosemite case also highlights recent efforts to fund parks through commercial means.
In his 30-year parks career, Nolan has lately noticed more encouragement from federal agency leaders to find creative ways to manage and fund park projects.
"We are regularly looking, and probably more so in the future, at ways we can partner with different organizations," Nolan said.
The park has already incorporated some techniques.
"We make much more use of volunteers today," Nolan said, noting their work on trails and in visitor centers.
The park has also boosted its involvement in the local community. Other parks have sought corporate sponsorships that allow businesses to place logos on equipment.
But Scott Silver, executive director of Wild Wilderness, wonders if such efforts commercialize national parks. His Bend, Ore., nonprofit seeks to block parks from turning into business-like operations that make money rather than focus on preserving American lands.
"It sounds all reasonable," Silver said of such commercial influences. "But it ignores the fact that these are public properties."
Such influences, Silver said, can negate the serenity that parks provide and the change from cities that vacationers seek by visiting national parks.
"If there's golden arches over the entrance, it loses something," Silver said.
While not a frequent visitor to Redwood National and State Parks, he remember a trip to the area.
"It was a minimally developed park," Silver said. "It was actually quite a contrast."