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Yosemite's historic bridges named to most endangered list

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park
Joe Moore
Valley Public Radio
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

Earlier this week, the National Trust for Historic Preservation issued its annual list of the nation's most endangered historic sites, and for the second year in a row, Central California is in the spotlight. And this year, the preservation group is focusing attention on efforts to save several historic stone bridges in Yosemite National Park. FM89's Joe Moore has this report.

When visitors come to Yosemite National Park, they not only marvel at Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, but also historic structures like the Awhannee Hotel and the park's distinctive stone bridges.

But a new management plan under consideration from the National Parks Service could result in the demolition of a number of the Valley's historic bridges, as part of the restoration of the Merced, which is classified as a Wild and Scenic River.

That's why this week, the non-profit National Trust for Historic Preservation included the historic bridges of Yosemite in its annual list of the nation's 11 most endangered historic places, alongside the Princeton Battlefield from the Revolutionary War and the Ellis Island Hospital Complex. Last year, the Trust named Hanford's China Alley to the list.

"The historic features of Yosemite Valley are very much a part of what makes that place so special,” says Anthony Veerkamp, Senior Field Officer for the San Francisco office of the Trust. He says the rustic bridges, which are around 80 years old, helped influence the design of features in state and national parks across the country, and should be preserved. "The Parks Service designated this as a National Register Historic District just five years ago and in doing so said that it was a nationally significant district."

Of the five plans under consideration, all but one would result in the removal of two or three of the bridges. It's part of a tension between the values of environmental restoration and historic preservation that extends beyond Yosemite Valley. The Wild and Scenic Rivers program emphasizes efforts to bring rivers back to their original free-flowing state, as they were before dams, bridges or other features were built.

Veerkamp says the Trust is concerned that if the Yosemite bridges are demolished, historic structures in other National Parks could be next. “I think we're concerned that precedent that is set at Yosemite Valley could be followed throughout the National Parks Service, and implementing a wild and scenic river plan that disregards historic resources, where their national significance has already been documented is a precedent that we don't want to see set."

The parks service plans to continue to refine its plans for the Merced River based on comments from the public, as it prepares an environmental study for the restoration project.