2011-07-22

Access v. Preservation on Half Dome

My buddy Kyle sent me this, wondering what I thought. Quick rundown: A lot of people like going to Half Dome at Yosemite National Park, and they’re having difficulty handling it. They have a permitting process in place, but it’s not very good. Now a group is making noise about adding additional routes to the top and doing away with the permits. Bad idea. Here’s why, and what I think they should do about it:

First thing, you must limit crowds. A third cable is out of the question. Like Ms. Cobb said, goal #1 of the NPS is to preserve for future generations. Increasing the capacity of Half Dome probably won’t affect it physically so much; it is, after all, a rock. I’m glad the writer hit on the potential impact to the trail, and the fact that the point is not to turn it into a theme park ride. Sure, you could pave a 15 foot wide path all the way to the base and sell lemonade and turkey legs along the way, and the park could probably make good money doing that, but that’s totally not the point. Harrison’s an idiot to think that adding a third rail and doing away with the permitting process would be a good move; like the article said, maybe he should go be a traffic engineer.

Another consideration is the view and the experience. People go to Half Dome to experience the climb and the view and the beauty of it all. Crowding a huge number of people up on top ruins the experience. As much as you can, you have to preserve that and keep it sacred. That’s the beauty of the place being publicly owned; no profit motive. The motive is provide the best experience possible, not cram as many people onto the trail as they can.

Also, don’t drag the I’ve been doing this for 30 years!” argument into it. Does California have the same amount of people it did 30 years ago? Has the number of people coming to Yosemite changed in 30 years? I would bet yes, and substantially so. Park management has to change to meet changing demands, and the Park Service has to make access to the place as fair as they can. They are, after all, OUR parks. Not yours.

As far as the process goes, it does seem a little jacked up. The article makes it sound like you can buy as many as you want, and that a few certain people bought them all up. In reality, it says you can only buy 4 at a time. The problem is that you can immediately call back or go back to the website and buy 4 more. It probably should just be 4 and done. The easiest thing to do would be to raise the prices, but again, that’s not the point of the parks. They have to serve everyone, and they try to avoid pricing people out of a visit. You could probably raise the price to $5, but I don’t think they could raise the price enough to have an impact on demand without pricing some people out. And you have to make sure the person that bought the pass is the one that uses the pass. You could set this up like hotels and online reservations: buy the pass online, and when you get to the park, someone is there to scan your card and give you the pass. You identify by using the same card in both instances. Also, I would be for a use it or lose it” policy. The name of the person would be printed on the pass, and they should have to show ID before they start on the trail. This would keep people from giving away passes at the trailhead, and also eliminate crowds of people loitering, trying to get a pass.

You have to make it clear and simple, though. The process they have now concerning how many passes they release is way too complex. Cap it at a certain amount, and explain the policy and its purpose clearly and passionately, and be relatable. So many times parks do a terrible job at PR in situations like this, and they come off as aloof or uncaring about the visitors.

So, to summarize: No third rail. Raise the price of the passes, and make sure the person buying the pass is the same person that uses the pass. Prevent any transfer of passes to other people. Make the policy clear and simple. Explain it to people so they understand and are cool with it. If people love the Dome, they’ll understand. If they don’t, screw em. The experience will be more enjoyable if they weren’t there.


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