Yosemite’s Most Popular Trail is Dangerous. A $5 Million Upgrade Hopes to Make it Safer.
Yosemite National Park’s Mist Trail, a seven-mile trek attracting up to 4,000 daily visitors during summer weekends, is renowned for its stunning views of Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall. Despite its popularity, the trail’s steep and slippery conditions have led to frequent rescues and occasional fatalities. To address this, a $5 million project aims to enhance the trail’s safety and improve the overall experience.
Former Yosemite ranger and Yosemite Conservancy President, Frank Dean, expressed his excitement about the project. The conservancy, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, plans to collaborate with park officials for the improvements. The organization has committed $500,000 for design work, slated for completion next year, followed by construction in 2025 and 2026.
The key changes include relocating the trailhead back near the Happy Isles Nature Center, where it was before a 1997 flood damaged a pedestrian bridge. Plans also encompass the reconstruction of the bridge, installation of interpretive signs at the new trailhead, improved safety features such as better railings, a new observation deck, and potential new half steps on steeper sections. Upgraded restrooms at Vernal Fall and removal of deteriorating asphalt on the trail’s lower part are also likely.
While these modifications are intended to enhance safety and enjoyment, the trail’s most iconic features, like the Vernal Fall overlook and granite stairs, will remain unchanged. Chief Ranger at Yosemite, Kevin Killian, suggested that the work would be conducted in stages to avoid trail closure.
The Mist Trail has a rich history, serving as a route for native tribes before California statehood, becoming a tourist favorite in the 1870s, and receiving upgrades from President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration crews in the 1930s. However, the trail, like many other park landmarks, has demonstrated signs of deterioration over time.
The Yosemite Conservancy has a track record of supporting similar projects, donating $152 million to Yosemite since 1988. This year, the group will contribute $17 million to more than 50 projects, educational programs, and research initiatives. Kurt Repanshek, editor of National Parks Traveler, stressed the importance of such groups, particularly in light of insufficient congressional funding for national parks.
In addition to the Mist Trail project, the Conservancy will fund several other initiatives this year, including the Junior Ranger program for kids, wildfire threat reduction in giant sequoia groves, restoration of Ackerson Meadow wetlands, protection of endangered great gray owls’ nesting locations, and bighorn sheep population studies.
Finally, the park is set to open a new $9 million welcome center in Yosemite Valley and complete a $14 million project to provide new parking, restrooms, trails, and observation platforms at Bridalveil Fall, both of which were jointly funded by the Yosemite Conservancy and the park.
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