2013-01-24 / Front Page

Thought of rink removal freezes skate enthusiasts

MERCED RIVER PLAN
By Erik Skindrud
GAZETTE EDITOR


Kenny Winston, 11, gives a thumbs-up with other skaters from Redlands Adventist Academy at the Curry Village ice rink last week. According to Dr. Allison Hensley-Bannis (in cap at left), ice skating is a favorite activity on the school’s annual Park trip. 
Erik Skindrud | The Gazette Kenny Winston, 11, gives a thumbs-up with other skaters from Redlands Adventist Academy at the Curry Village ice rink last week. According to Dr. Allison Hensley-Bannis (in cap at left), ice skating is a favorite activity on the school’s annual Park trip. Erik Skindrud | The Gazette Try telling Amber Miller, 11, that the ice rink at Yosemite’s Curry Village is “not a vital visitor experience.”

With her green-and-blue knit cap, the Loma Linda sixth-grader had donned rented skates and a safety helmet before venturing out onto the slippery surface.

“No. Oh no,” she said when told of the rink’s possible closure. “I would hate that. You can’t close this place.”

With other students from Redlands Adventist Academy, the city kids were attending NatureBridge sessions and exploring the Park last week.

The school has been sending sixth graders on Yosemite trips for years, and ice skating always becomes a treasured memory from the trip, parent Dr. Allison Hensley Bennis explained.

“If this rink went away, a lot of these kids would never get to experience ice skating,” the medical doctor said. “They look forward to this every year.”

They, along with some 12,000 others each year, would miss out on the experience.

Sixth-grade teacher Jessica Harrington of Redlands stands with students Gigi Ghaly, 11 (from left), Amber Miller, 11, and Marcella Medema, 11, at the Curry Village ice rink last week. Erik Skindrud / GAZETTE photoSixth-grade teacher Jessica Harrington of Redlands stands with students Gigi Ghaly, 11 (from left), Amber Miller, 11, and Marcella Medema, 11, at the Curry Village ice rink last week. Erik Skindrud / GAZETTE photo

It would seem obvious that skating below Half Dome’s sunny face qualifies as a vital visitor experience.

But according to the Park’s Merced River Plan (MRP) draft document released early this month, that’s exactly what the ice rink is not.

Welcome to the world of National Park Service planning documents, where an arcane set of regulations created by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, or NEPA, reigns.

Add to NEPA a 2008 ruling from the federal 9th Circuit Court of Ap- peals, and you had better have a staff of lawyers on hand to untangle meanings ascribed to normal English words.

The assertion (on the MRP’s page 8-87) that the ice rink “is not a vital visitor experience” is a reference to a federal judge’s decision from 2008, it turns out.

“That court has decided to side with plaintiffs... who specifically point to the ice rink as an inappropriate recreational use,” said Kevin Cann, a Mariposa County supervisor who wants the ice rink to stay.

Written by 9th Circuit Court Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, the 2008 decision lists facilities that constitute “degradation” of the river corridor.

Mariposa County residents and Yosemite visitors have until April 18 to comment on the Park’s current proposal.

There is no level of support for the ice rink that would force the Park to keep it, however.

The public comment period “is not a vote,” said Cann, a former Park manager. Rather public comments are seen as a tool to ensure that the Park “is fully aware of potential impacts.”

The court ruling that mentions the ice rink applies to a half-mile corridor centered on the Merced River. The ruling cites the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968—special protective legislation that applies to the Merced and more than 155 other American rivers.

“It is conceivable that (the Park) could find a parking lot outside of the river corridor where they could set the rink up temporarily for the winter,” Cann said. “That’s one possible result that a public outcry (in support of the ice rink) could have.”

Along with Cann, two other Mariposa County supervisors have said they want the ice rink to stay.

"I hope the Park reconsiders the ice rink," supervisor Janet Bibby said. "That ice rink is a draw (for tourists). My understanding is that national parks are for public use."

Bibby has discussed the ice rink’s importance with local tourism bureau director Terry Selk, she said.

Supervisor John Carrier, one of two new members of the board, has also voiced support for the rink.

If the skate rink were removed along with summer bicycle and raft rentals, 90 employees of Park concessionaire Delaware North Companies could lose their jobs, DNC spokesperson Lisa Cesaro said this week. It also means that 100,000 people who enjoy those activities each year would have to consider visiting Yosemite without such activities.

Rink worker Robert Loofbourow said Yosemite’s winter ambiance would not be the same without the skating rink.

“I would miss it,” he said last week. “I love to skate—it’s such good exercise.”

Residents can submit comments by online form or old-fashioned mail by April 18.

To comment online, go to http://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?documentID=50778 and click on “Comment on Document.”

To submit by mail, send comments to Superintendent Don Neubacher, Attn: Merced River Plan, P.O. Box 577, Yosemite, CA 95389.

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A near One-hundred year old

A near One-hundred year old tradition of creating one of the most beautiful ice-skating destinations in America is posed to die! It makes me sick! Where is their sense of history, Ansel Adams skated the ice of Yosemite, theres photographic proof! Something tells me a few other historic figures likely skated the ice as well. In a valley where many other ponds freeze over in the winter months how can creating a small frozen pond over a parking lot that would other wise be covered with snow or worse, cars really wreak that much damage on the Merced River. I assure you it faces far more peril at the hands of man down stream. Whoever is in charge of this attack on such a wholesome, enjoyable, family activity need to pull their head from the ecological clouds of smugness, strap a pair of skates on and do a few laps. But be careful, the breathtaking sights of ice covered granite can cause even the best skater to trip over there own feet.

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