Imagine hiking a non-motorized trail that connects between the Mono Basin Scenic Visitor Center, the gateway community of Lee Vining, Lee Vining Canyon, and Yosemite National Park. Members of the Mono Basin Regional Planning Advisory Committee (RPAC) and the public that attended its meeting Wednesday night were asked to do just that during a workshop session. The timing seemed appropriate as Tioga Pass is expected to open this weekend and many people’s thoughts are on Yosemite.
According to Mono County’s website, “The Mono-Yosemite Gateway Trail Project is a community-based planning effort to develop a conceptual trail plan for the Mono Basin area connecting the town of Lee Vining through Lee Vining Canyon with possible connections into Yosemite National Park.
“The trail master plan will include trail alignment alternatives, design guidelines, trail access points, including trailheads, wayfinding, interpretation themes, strategies for long-term maintenance and operations, and opportunities for partnerships.”
On Wednesday evening, Mono County Associate Planner Heather deBethizy explained further that the County is currently seeing a revival of trail planning. “Recreation is key to the economy,” deBethizy said.
Eastern Sierra local Danna Stroud came up with the idea to use the Mono-Yosemite Gateway Trail Project as a pilot project for the larger concept of an Eastern Sierra Trail, deBethizy said. The County applied for and was awarded a grant from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program. The grant does not fund the Mono-Yosemite Gateway Trail Project. Its purpose it to pay a facilitator from the National Park Service, Deborah Reardon, to help put together a conceptual plan for the project. Reardon was present at Wednesday’s meeting.
The planning document is expected to identify funding sources, Reardon explained.
“I can help facilitate leveraging community funds,” she said.
Part of the process is to inventory what currently exists and look at connecting what’s already out there.
As Reardon attempted to shift from the workshop’s Q&A segment to the small group exercise of reviewing maps, opposition to the process and the idea of the trail rose to the surface.
“You’re wrecking the terrain,” said Charlotte Lange, a representative of the Mono Lake Kutzadika Tribe stated. “You’ve been shutting down trails and now you’re starting a new one.” Lange was referring to recent trail closure implemented by the Forest Service through its Travel Management Decision.
“The Indian people don’t want the land torn up more,” Lange said. “Why not leave the land sacred? We are opposing this. We want to keep Lee Vining nice and not make it look like Yosemite.”
Lange went on to explain that there are places that the tribe does not want disturbed by tourists walking over the land.
RPAC member Mark Logan agreed that the trail should not be built but for different reasons.
“The Country’s broke,” Logan said. “Who’s going to pay for this? Why throw a bunch of money at this and then have it go to hell? Leave us alone, we don’t need another trail.”
Katie Bellomo, another RPAC member asked, “Do people want this? Are we in a rushed planning process for something people don’t want?”
Fellow RPAC member Bartshe Miller pointed out that there had been three previous meetings on this topic with zero opposition until that night.
“Whenever we get serious about something, people speak against it,” Miller said.
Forest Service Recreation Officer for the Mammoth-Mono Lake District, Jon Kazmierski pointed out that the idea had originated back in 2005 when community members asked to have Lee Vining Canyon campgrounds connected to the town.
“It’s about consolidating existing trails for better protection,” added RPAC member Chris Lizza. “This way people would only be using one trail instead of five.”
RPAC member Ilene Mandelbaum, however, shared a lot of Lange’s concerns. “Can we improve the pedestrian experience but keep it in harmony with the landscape? I’m concerned about directing tourism to untouched places.”
Debethizy said that nothing is ruled out at this time, everything is still very conceptual.
Lee Vining resident and community volunteer for the project Paul McFarland believed that the trail would be a benefit to the town of Lee Vining. “It would make it less of a pass through and more of a destination,” he said.
Trying to regain momentum for the workshop, Reardon explained that she had worked in other places with issues and disagreements such as those that surfaced Wednesday night. “Sometimes it helps to take a small section of trail and use it as a pilot,” she said.
Bellomo agreed. “It’s being billed as a large project and may be overwhelming to those just coming to the table.”
“Just linking some trails would be good,” added McFarland.
Those in attendance then broke into small groups. Each group looked at one of three maps of potential trail segments: Mono Lake to the Mobil Mart, the Mobil Mart to Lee Vining Canyon, and the trail to Yosemite.
In the groups, some spoke excitedly of having the trail go right through the town of Lee Vining to get a larger volume of hiker traffic passing by shops and lodging. Fantasies of hikers staying overnight in Lee Vining the night before and after hiking the trail circulated within the conversations.
The groups then reconvened and shared the input they had come up with from concrete ideas to philosophical ones, from trail alignments to interpretive signage.
“The whole tone of the evening changed,” McFarland told The Sheet on Thursday.
“It was a great discussion,” Kazmierski also said on Thursday. “There was a diverse set of interests represented, which showed that there is an interest in the area. We just have to figure out what’s the best thing to do.”
As for next steps, McFarland said the visioning process needed to continue. To do this, people should get out and start walking.
Contact deBethizy for info: 760.924.1812 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The goal is to have a draft of the conceptual plan completed by late 2013.